Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp) is a Spanish tapas recipe that's easy to make at home. It cooks in 15 minutes so it's perfect for a quick dinner!
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Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) is one of the most classic Spanish tapas recipes you're ever going to come across. Slivers of garlic and shrimp are simmered gently in olive oil with a bit of crushed red pepper, creating a garlicky, spicy sauce that is irresistible.
You only need one pan and one burner for this recipe. Just put it in a skillet real quick, and dinner is ready. By the time you turn over all the shrimp, it's done. Put the skillet right on the table and eat directly from it. Dunk some bread in there. Couldn't be simpler.
Gambas al ajillo is an easy Spanish tapa you can make at home!
- Just a few ingredients, but big flavors!
- Ready in 15 minutes.
- Serve as an appetizer or a main course.
- Don't sleep on the garlic-infused olive oil and all that luscious garlic. Be prepared with bread to soak it up!
- It's a classic Spanish recipe that's great to add to your repertoire.
Ingredients you'll need
Gambas al ajillo only has 7 ingredients, most of them are pantry staples.
- Shrimp: Choose shrimp that are about 'medium' size or in the range of 21-30 per pound. You'll want head off, but you can decide if shell on or shell off are best for you. See tips below about buying shrimp for this recipe.
- Garlic: Oh, so much garlic. And we'll slice it, so you get a nice mouthful of sweet, melty garlic in every bite.
- Crushed red pepper: To make things a little spicy. You can adjust the amount to your taste.
- Olive oil: Use the good olive oil because this is going to be the sauce that the shrimp are swimming in. You're going to want to sop it up with bread, so it needs to taste good.
- Parsley, lemon: The parsley will provide a nice freshness to finish the dish and who doesn't love a lemon wedge squeezed over some shrimp?
- Kosher salt
Video: How to make gambas al ajillo
How to make gambas al ajillo: Step by step instructions
Adapted from Food & Wine.
Step 1: Prep the shrimp and garlic
Remove shells from shrimp, leaving tails on. Toss in a bowl with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, let stand 10 minutes.
Slice the garlic into thin slices.
Step 2: Heat the oil and poach the garlic
Add the garlic and olive oil to a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over moderately low heat. You are gently and slowly infusing the olive oil with the garlic flavor. Poaching the garlic, really.
Stir occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and has just barely started to brown.
Throw in the pinch of red pepper flakes and give it a stir.
Step 3: Cook the shrimp and finish the dish!
Add the shrimp to the skillet, keeping the heat moderately low. Keep them all in one layer, don't pile them up.
When they are barely pink on one side, flip them all over and let cook for maybe a minute. When they have all barely turned pink, remove from heat immediately and allow to finish cooking in the warm oil.
Top with the parsley.
Serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread.
Look for individually frozen shrimp with the head off and the peel on. You don't want jumbo shrimp and you don't want tiny ones, either. I like the 21-30 per pound size. Pick some up when it's on sale and keep it in the freezer at the ready if the mood strikes for this garlicky goodness.
What to serve with gambas al ajillo
Try serving gambas al ajillo alongside these Spanish dishes!
- Pan con tomate is toasted bread rubbed with fresh tomatoes and it's a classic Spanish side dish that's perfect for sharing.
- You might want to start with some refreshing Gazpacho!
Tips for cooking and buying shrimp for gambas al ajillo
About shrimp cooking times:
- The cooking time will vary depending upon the size of the shrimp you buy. But it generally goes pretty fast, around 2-3 minutes per side. Don't walk away! Just remember you don't want to overcook shrimp, but you also should NOT be eating grey shrimp...
What to look for when buying shrimp:
In college, I was your friendly neighborhood seafood counter girl. (Add to the list you are keeping of my previous food jobs.) So here are some shrimp buying pro tips.
- Shrimp in the full-service seafood case is always more expensive and has been previously frozen. You are not getting fresh shrimp, so don't be fooled.
- Peeled and de-veined shrimp are more expensive.
- Shrimp are sold by number per pound. So, 21/30 = 21 to 30 shrimp per pound, 31/35 = 31 to 35 shrimp per pound. The size names "Jumbo", "Large", etc., can vary from store to store, so learn to judge how much you are getting by the number, not the name.
- There's no need to buy de-veined shrimp or to remove the vein yourself. The vein will not hurt you, and guess what - there's one on the other side of the shrimp, too, that no one ever takes off. If you happen to find them on sale, go for it, otherwise there is no need to pay more. I also think the freezing process after they have been both peeled and de-veined beats up the meat a little.
More shrimp recipes
- Use this garlic shrimp recipe as a base to make Shrimp Salad with Romaine, Cherry Peppers, and Lemon-Garlic Dressing.
- Cilantro Lime Shrimp with Tequila Butter is another quick dinner that you can make and serve in one pan.
- Shrimp Scampi with Tomatoes, Corn and Fresh Basil is also full of garlic and is the epitome of summer.
Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo)
- 1 lb 21-30 shrimp
- ¼ cup thinly sliced garlic
- 1 ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- pinch crushed red pepper
- ¼ cup minced parsley
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- lemon wedges
- Peel shrimp, leaving tails on. Toss in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic and olive oil to a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over moderately low heat. Stir occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and has just barely started to brown. You're essentially poaching the garlic.
- Throw in the pinch of red pepper flakes and give it a stir.
- Add the shrimp to the skillet, keeping the heat moderately low. Keep them all in one layer, don't pile them up. When they are barely pink on one side, flip them all over and let cook for about a minute. Then remove from heat and allow to finish cooking in the warm oil.
- Top with the parsley. Serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread.
- I've tried to tailor the amount of shrimp/shrimp size to the size that the pan will hold in one batch. Just remember not to overcrowd the pan, it should be full, but all in one layer.
- The cooking time will vary depending upon the size of the shrimp you buy. But it generally goes pretty fast. Don't walk away! Just remember you don't want to overcook shrimp, but you also should NOT be eating grey shrimp...
- I love my Lodge cast iron skillet for this recipe. You go from stovetop to serving dish in one swoop.
- You can add more garlic if you like. For me, the more the better. It gets so soft and melty and is great slathered on the bread.
- Be sure to read the post above for tips about saving money when shopping for shrimp.