Spanish garlic shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo) is a classic tapas recipe. The garlic and olive oil sauce is easy to make at home, and it cooks in 15 minutes. Perfect for a quick dinner!
Spanish garlic shrimp (gambas al ajillo) is one of the most classic Spanish tapas recipes ever! Slivers of garlic and shrimp are simmered gently in olive oil with a bit of crushed red pepper, creating a lightly spicy garlic sauce that is irresistible.
Back when I worked as a waitress at a tapas bar, this was the hands-down favorite of both staff and guests, and it's so easy to make at home!
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.
Ingredients you'll need
Gambas al ajillo is really all about the sauce! The shrimp cook in it, and absorb all the garlic flavor.
- Shrimp: Choose peeled shrimp that are about 'medium' size or in the range of 21-30 per pound. 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-quality extra virgin olive oil (try a Spanish one!) because this is going to be the primary ingredient of the garlic 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 wedges: The chopped fresh parsley will provide a nice light to finish the dish and who doesn't love a lemon wedge squeezed over some shrimp?
- Kosher salt
- Optional: Dry sherry or dry white wine can be added to this garlic shrimp recipe. In Spanish cooking, a splash of sherry is often added for flavor and aroma. But neither are absolutely necessary, so if you have some on hand, great. If not, it will be delicious without it!
How to make Spanish garlic shrimp
Recipe adapted from Food & Wine.
Step 1: Prep the shrimp and garlic
Toss shrimp in a bowl with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, let stand 10 minutes. Slice the garlic into thin slices.
Step 2: Heat the olive 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 chili 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 1-2 minutes more. When they have all barely turned pink, remove from heat immediately and allow to finish cooking in the warm olive oil.
Top with the parsley. Serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread.
- Shrimp cook FAST! Once the oil is warm, you only need to keep it on the burner for about 1-2 minutes per side. Remember the shrimp will continue to cook in the oil, so remove from the heat as soon as they turn pink!
- I like to slice the garlic for Spanish shrimp, but if you prefer to chop it instead, that is totally fine.
- Don't squeeze the lemon into the garlic sauce until you remove the shrimp from the heat, you don't want it to turn bitter.
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...
Garlic shrimp should be eaten immediately, they don't reheat well. If you do have leftovers, store in an airtight container for up to 2 days, and serve the leftovers chilled. Reheating will cause them to overcook and become rubbery.
Gambas al ajillo is a Spanish garlic shrimp recipe, usually served as a tapas (small plate). Shrimp is cooked in a sauce made with garlic, olive oil, and chili flakes, and sometimes includes dry sherry or white wine.
What to serve with Spanish garlic shrimp
Try serving gambas al ajillo alongside these Spanish tapas 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!
What kind of shrimp for gambas al ajillo?
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 pro tips when you're shopping for shrimp to make this Spanish tapas recipe.
- Look for individually frozen shrimp with the head off. 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 garlic sauce goodness.
- Thawed 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.
- 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.
Spanish garlic shrimp is an easy tapas recipe you can make at home!
- Just a few ingredients, but big flavors!
- Ready in 15 minutes.
- Serve as an appetizer or a main course.
- When you finish the shrimp, don't sleep on the garlic-infused olive oil sauce and all that luscious garlic. Be prepared with bread to soak it up!
- It's a classic Spanish shrimp recipe that's great to add to your repertoire.
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.
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Spanish Garlic Shrimp Recipe
- 1 lb 21-30 peeled 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
- Toss shrimp 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.