Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp)

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Gambas al Ajillo {Garlic Shrimp} 

Spain is known for tapas, originally just an olive or two on a plate to literally “top” a drink.  Over time, the olive or piece of cheese has been replaced by more elaborate “little bites” of truly gourmet food.  But even the gourmet bites highlight the natural, simple flavors of the fresh ingredients. 

If you’ve spent any time in Spain, you will know that this created a fun way to eat your way through several tapas bars in one night.  Each region of Spain has their own specialties, but some tapas, like Gambas al Ajillo, can be found throughout the country.  I learned to love Gambas al Ajillo when I lived in El País Vasco in San Sebastián, Spain.  In this part of the country, pinxto (pronounced ‘peen-cho’) is the Basque word for tapas.

Coincidentally, a garlic-pepper shrimp has always been one of my dad’s specialties.  To this day, we ask him to make it.  Though we never thought of it as gambas al ajillo, my dad’s recipe is very similar.  {I did my best to approximate the ingredients but he always makes them to taste without following an exact recipe.} Serve his shrimp with the butter-garlic sauce and bread and you’ll feel like you could be in a pinxto bar in La Parte Vieja, San Sebastián, Spain.

You can adjust the seasonings, such as by adding parsley or finely minced chile peppers, but the buttery garlic sauce is the key. 

If you plan to serve the shrimp without the sauce, you can use 1 Tbsp each of butter and oil.  If you want to sop up the extra sauce with bread, I’d add a little more butter and oil so that you have more sauce to enjoy.  

Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp)
Recipe type: Appetizer
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
You'll definitely want some bread to sop up the extra garlic-butter sauce as you enjoy the shrimp.
  • 1 lb shrimp, deveined, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
  • 1-2 Tbsp butter
  • 1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil, just to coat the bottom of the pan
  • Crushed red peppers, to taste
  • ¼ tsp black pepper, to taste
  • ½ tsp garlic powder, to taste
  • The juice of ½ a lemon
  • Splash of white wine
  1. Coat the bottom of a pan with 1 Tbsp butter and a drop of oil and place over medium heat.
  2. Put the shrimp in the pan and sprinkle with black pepper and garlic powder.
  3. Add a dash of crushed red pepper flakes.
  4. Let the shrimp cook on one side for a couple of minutes, then flip them over.
  5. Lightly sprinkle the other side with black pepper and garlic powder.
  6. Add more crushed red pepper flakes.
  7. When the shrimp have cooked for a couple more minutes, add the juice of half of a lemon and a splash of white wine.
  8. Cook until the shrimp are done (they will firm up and lose their translucent coloring).

Click here to view a guide for selecting seafood.

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