Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp) is one of Spain’s most iconic tapas dishes, having been recreated and reworked in restaurants all over the world since its invention in the 1940s.
First thought up by the founder of the famous La Casa del Abuelo (Grandad’s House) in the country’s capital, Madrid, as an alternative to their crusty bread rolls during the flour shortages in Spain after the civil war.
Having previously churned out some 1500 sandwiches a day, the story says that Grandad, seeing the enormous effect the flour shortage would have on his business, trotted down to the local market one day in hopes of finding an easy and cheap alternative to serve to his throngs of hungry customers.
There, he stumbled across mounds and mounds of shrimp, a plentiful food source which could be bought at bargain basement prices.
Carrying his hoard of seafood back to the restaurant, he created Gambas al Ajillo. The recipe that would go on to make both he and his establishment famous throughout the country and beyond.
Fresh, raw, peeled shrimp (the smaller the better)
Small handful of parsley
1 dried guindilla chili pepper
5 cloves of garlic
1 generous pinch of rock salt
A fresh, crusty loaf of bread for serving
Makes enough as a tapa for 2-3 people
Cooking Tip: The trick for a successful Gambas al Ajillo tapa is to use a ceramic dish, not a frying pan or saucepan. Using a metal pan will cause the oil to heat to too high a temperature and will burn the garlic, giving it a horribly bitter taste. If you don’t have one at home, your local grocery store should have them in their cookware section.
Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves. Rough chop the parsley and mix well with the garlic.
Add olive oil into your dish until it sits about ½ inch deep.
With the stove on a high heat, roughly tear the dried guindilla chili pepper into small pieces and drop into the oil.
As the oil is heating, sprinkle a generous pinch of rock salt over your shrimp.
Allow the oil to start bubbling and carefully add your garlic-parsley mix to the ceramic dish.
Add your shrimp and leave to cook for a maximum of two minutes, or until the shrimp have turned their usual scrummy pink colour.
Remember to give them a good swirl too so that they mix well with the other ingredients.
Once the shrimp are cooked, remove immediately from heat and allow to sit for a minute or two.
This gives you time to turn your attention to your wine options.
My personal recommendation comes from the home of this recipe itself; La Casa del Abuelo where they offer a wonderful sweet red to accompany their tapas.
This particular red is quite aptly named ‘El Abuelo’ wine from the Toro region and is available either directly from the bar or can be purchased online here.
For those of you not lucky enough not to be a mere hop, skip and a jump away from the birthplace of Gambas al Ajillo and their own wine offerings, our good friend James Blick of Devour Spain has these great alternatives from Galicia for you to try out:
A light red wine from the Ribeira Sacra region. Try and find a wine made from the Mencia grape variety for the best fit.
A light white wine with notes of apricot and peach from the Albariño region.
Another delicate white from Valdeorras, made from the Godello grape. Preferably one that hasn’t been aged in a barrel.
Tuck in while your dish is still piping hot, sipping on your wine as you go and using your bread to scoop and soak what’s left of the oil.
Recipe originally featured on www.inseatnumber3.com a Spanish based food and lifestyle blog.
Debbie Musgrove is a Gastronomical Tour Guide at Madrid Food Tour.