Garlic and shrimp are meant to be together. Cultures across the world marry these two ingredients together in many flavorful ways. Spain has its own version which I learned nearly two decades ago from my brother-in-law who grew up in Madrid. Watching him cook his favorites from his home country is the best way to learn, so I join him in the kitchen regularly.
This recipe is a compilation of several ways to make gambas al ajillo (“shrimp with garlic”). Like many recipes, there are regional variations, so I took the best of each one and created this version. The most important piece of this recipe is fresh shrimp--local if possible. It is quite easy to prepare and can either take center stage as the main course or be served as tapas/appetizer. The crusty bread that accompanies this dish is a must. You will need it to sop up all of that delicious sauce!
1.5 lbs shrimp - peeled, deveined, tails still on
½ cup olive oil
6 large garlic cloves - sliced
¼ - ½ tsp crushed red pepper
½ tsp. Spanish paprika (smoked paprika)
½ tsp. Flake or sea salt (such as Maldon)
3 Tbs. sherry or white wine
2 Tbs. lemon juice
- In a cast iron or heavy bottom skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. While oil is heating, pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel.
- Once the oil is hot, add the sliced garlic cloves and the crushed red pepper. Stir to incorporate into the oil. Saute for about 60 seconds making sure the garlic does not burn.
- Add the shrimp and cook on one side for about 1-2 minutes. Flip the shrimp and cook on the other side for 1-2 minutes or until pink and opaque. Turn the heat down to medium.
- Add the Spanish paprika and the sherry. Stir and cook for about 30 seconds.
- Add the lemon juice and stir. Remove from the heat. Serve on a platter with the pan juices.
- Top with chopped parsley and sea salt. Serve with crusty grilled bread.