Spanish prawns with garlic or “Gambas al Ajillo” is a classic Spanish tapas dish known for its bold flavours and simplicity.
Gambas al Ajillo is one of my favourite dishes to order, and the kids love it when I make it at home. The prawns are cooked in a sizzling in a fragrant, garlic-infused olive oil, with a tantalising kick of red pepper flakes, and a bright, zesty burst of lemon. It’s a culinary masterpiece that captures the essence of Spain in every bite. But my absolute favourite part? It has to be the moment when I tear off a piece of crusty bread and dip it into that heavenly garlic and lemony chilli oil.
This dish isn’t just a meal; it’s an experience. The prawns, garlic, olive oil, and spices all come together to create a symphony of flavours that I can’t get enough of. Get ready to fall in love with Gambas Al Ajillo, just like I did. Here’s a recipe to make this delicious dish.
Basic Ingredients for Gambas al Ajillo (Spanish Prawns with Garlic Oil)
Large Prawns: Prawns are the star of this dish, providing a delicate, sweet seafood flavour and a tender texture when cooked. Large prawns are preferred for their meatiness.
Garlic: Garlic adds the foundational flavour to Gambas al Ajillo. Its aromatic, savoury quality infuses the olive oil, creating a rich, garlicky base for the prawns.
Olive Oil: Extra-virgin olive oil is the cooking medium for this dish, lending its fruity, robust notes to the flavour. It also carries the essence of the garlic and spices.
Butter: Butter adds a luxurious richness to the dish, complementing the olive oil. It enhances the sauce’s creaminess while balancing the sharpness of garlic and chilli.
Red Pepper Flakes: These provide a subtle heat and depth of flavour. Adjust the amount to your spice preference.
Sweet Paprika: Sweet paprika is optional but contributes a mild smokiness and vibrant red colour to the dish.
Fresh Parsley: Chopped parsley adds a fresh, herbaceous element and a burst of colour to the final presentation.
Lemon: Lemon juice brightens the dish, cutting through the richness with a refreshing citrusy note.
Salt and Pepper: These seasonings enhance the overall taste and balance the flavours.
Crusty Bread: This serves as a vessel for sopping up the flavorful garlic and chilli oil, enhancing the dining experience.
Shrimp: If you can’t find prawns, large shrimp can be used as a substitute.
Chilli Powder: Replace red pepper flakes with chilli powder if you prefer a smoother texture in the sauce.
Smoked Paprika: For added depth, use smoked paprika instead of sweet paprika.
Cilantro: Substitute cilantro for parsley if you prefer its flavour.
Preparation Tips for Gambas al Ajillo (Spanish Prawns with Garlic Oil)
- Ensure your prawns are properly peeled and deveined for easy eating.
- Pat the prawns dry before cooking to avoid excess moisture in the pan.
- Slice the garlic thinly to infuse the oil evenly.
- Adjust the spice level by controlling the amount of red pepper flakes.
- Use fresh lemon juice for the best flavour.
Serving Tips for Gambas al Ajillo (Spanish Prawns with Garlic Oil)
- Serve Gambas al Ajillo hot, right from the skillet, to savour its full flavours.
- Garnish with extra parsley for a vibrant finish.
- Provide extra crusty bread for dipping or mopping up the delicious sauce.
- This dish is best enjoyed fresh, but if you have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
- Reheat gently in a pan, adding a bit of olive oil to refresh the flavors.
Gambas al Ajillo (Spanish Prawns with Garlic Oil)
- 500 g large prawns, peeled and deveined
- 6-8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- handful fresh parsley, chopped
- ½ lemon, juiced
- freshly ground black pepper
- crusty bread
- Make sure the prawns are peeled, and deveined and the tails are left on. Pat them dry with paper towels and season lightly with salt and pepper.
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and sauté for 5-7 minutes in low heat. Cook the garlic until it becomes fragrant and starts to turn golden, but be careful not to let it burn, which can make it bitter. Add chili flakes and paprika powder.
- Add the prawns to the skillet with the garlic and oil. Cook for 1-2 minutes on each side until they turn pink and opaque. Be sure not to overcook them, as they can become rubbery.
- Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Squeeze in the lemon juice and finally add the chopped fresh parsley over the prawns and garlic.
- Gambas al Ajillo is best served hot right from the skillet. Transfer the prawns and garlic to a serving dish, making sure to pour the flavorful oil and garlic over the top.
- Serve the prawns with crusty bread to soak up the delicious garlic-infused oil. You can also drizzle some of the oil over the bread for extra flavour.