Sizzling Garlic Shrimp

(Gambas al ajillo)

close up shot of an earthenware dish filled with gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) and topped with some chopped parsley

You’ll find the delicious aroma of Gambas al ajillo (Garlic shrimp) wafting from kitchens scattered all over Spain. From the dusty central plains to the islands plopped in the azure waters of the Mediterranean, garlic shrimp is a favorite with locals and visitors to Spain. 

This Gambas al ajillo garlic shrimp recipe is quick and super easy to make, and best of all doesn’t require any special equipment or fancy ingredients! Get your skillets ready, let’s make Spain’s famous tapas, gambas al ajillo

Shrimp Recipe | Gambas | Spanish Tapas | Easy Tapas Recipe | Prawns | Garlic Recipe | 10-minute Tapas | Fried Shrimp | Seafood Recipe

Serving:

4 people (tapas)

Ready in:

20 minutes

Skill level:

very easy

Serve with:

Fresh sliced bread

About This Recipe

One of the best things about Spanish cuisine is their adoration for seafood, and gambas al ajillo is probably one of the most popular dishes throughout the country!

Spain has an abundance of fresh seafood and shrimp are pretty much a staple for most households and food venues, from the bustling tapas bars in the capital of Madrid to the stunning seaside regions in all directions.  

Visit any of the larger cities and you’ll find Spanish gambas al ajillo tapas dishes all over town. 

ingredinets for gambas al ajillo are laid out in small bowl on a wooden board

What you’ll need to make garlic shrimp (gambas al ajillo)

  • 1lb shrimp/400 grams of large raw shrimp 
  • 12 large garlic cloves
  • 1 small onion (optional)
  • 1 heaped teaspoons of sweet Spanish paprika
  • ½ teaspoon of dried chili flakes (add more if you like more heat!)
  • 1/2 cup (100 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shot (60 ml) fine sherry wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley (optional for garnish)
  • 1 lemon (half of the zest)
  • 1 pinch salt

Gambas al ajillo recipe

For this gambas al ajillo recipe, we use large fresh raw shrimp, although we’ve made it tonnes of times using frozen shrimp too and it works just fine! If you’re using frozen shrimp, allow a little extra time to thaw the shrimp before cooking (more info is in the FAQ section below). 

If you’re not into spice, ditch the cayenne pepper and replace it with sweet paprika and a little crushed chili flakes, and you’ll have a lovely warming flavor that really complements the sweetness of the shrimp. 

If you’re looking to add a little tang, a squeeze of one lemon works great right at the end of the cooking process.

What is Gambas al Ajillo?

Gambas al ajillo (or garlic shrimp) is a traditional Spanish tapas recipe that’s made by combining fresh shrimp with an ajillo sauce made from paprika-infused olive oil, lemon juice, and sherry.

One of the best things about Spanish cuisine is their adoration for seafood, and gambas al ajillo is probably one of the most popular tapas throughout the country! It’s quick and easy to make and combines the combination of garlic and seafood which not only smells incredible whilst cooking this recipe, it tastes fantastic!

a large frying pan sits on a wooden counter that's topped with garlic shrimp (called gambas al ajillo in Spanish)

Garlic shrimp as tapas or main meal?

Garlic shrimp, or gambas al ajillo, is typically served as a tapas, but it’s also not unusual to find it served as a racione (a large tapas intended for sharing). 

Garlic shrimp is very easy to make and is usually served with a few hunks of fresh bread as the garlic-infused oil deserved a good mop-up. In this recipe, we’ve made a main meal serving and used a whole loaf of fresh bread (a barra de pan in Spanish).

Clay pot or skillet?

Traditionally, Spanish gambas al ajillo is made using an earthenware dish (a clay pot) that’s heated in the oven, however, you can just as easily make this garlic shrimp recipe using a skillet heated over the stove top.

I love making this dish and laying out the sizzling skillet on a chopping board when serving. The flavors quickly waft from the pan and the aroma is simply irresistible! 

It’s quick, easy, and guests can scoop the delicious garlic-infused sauce straight from the pan! Best of all, fewer dishes to wash later!

earthenware dishes sit on a rustic wooden benchtop

Fresh or frozen shrimp?

You’ll get better results if you source fresh shrimp from your local fishmonger, however, if you’re looking for a quick and easy dinner or tapas option, then using frozen shrimp is totally fine. 

If you’re using frozen shrimp, allow an extra 20 minutes to thaw the shrimp in some warm water, change the water a couple of times to help defrost them. Avoid defrosting shrimp in the microwave as it can often overcook them.

Note: For more information on cooking shrimp from frozen, check out our Cooking tips nd FAQ section below.

Where did Gambas al ajillo originate?

Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) is most likely to have originated from the central or southern regions of Spain. The popular tapas dish is most prominently found in the Andalusia region and the capital of Madrid.

Looking for more recipe ideas from regions of Spain?

Check out our regional foodie guides

What is gambas al ajillo made of?

While the ingredients for Gambas al ajillo vary from kitchen to kitchen in Spain, the authentic garlic shrimp recipe calls for fresh raw shrimp, paprika-infused olive oil, plus lemon juice, and some sherry to make the traditional ‘ajillo’ sauce.

paprika, shrimp, onions, and garlic in a frying pan

Gambas al ajillo ingredients

Olive oil is poured into a small clear glass

Olive Oil:

Gambas al ajillo is made using a lot of olive oil to make the sauce, and trust me, you do not want any of it to go to waste, so use the best quality extra-virgin olive oil you can find. Mopping up the delicious garlic-infused olive oil is so rewarding, so make sure you’ve got plenty of fresh bread on hand too!

Garlic:

Use tonnes of garlic for this recipe! After all, garlic (ajillo) is in the title so non-garlic lovers need not apply! Personally, I feel the more the better and in this garlic shrimp recipe, I’ll use at least 12 cloves of garlic for a meal that serves 4 people. Use a knife and finely slice the garlic as much as possible. If you use a garlic press, it will make the garlic too fine.

When cooking the garlic, make sure the oil is not too hot as it will burn quickly. Medium heat is plenty. It may take a little longer, but if you burn the garlic you’ll end up with a bitter aftertaste which is best avoided.

Shrimp (Gambas):

Of course the crucial ingredient is the gambas! Fresh or frozen are fine, just make sure the shrimps are beheaded, fully peeled, and deveined. 

For 1 kg of large shrimp, I’ll let them soak in chilled water with 1 teaspoon of salt for 10-15 minutes. It helps soften the shrimp and adds some flavor. Just be careful not to season the dish too much while preparing the recipe!

Cayenne pepper or crushed chili:

Many in Spain opt to use cayenne pepper when making gambas al ajilllo but I’ve personally found it can often make the dish too spicy and it takes away some of the sweetness from the prawns. 

In my gambas al ajillo recipe, I use a few good heaped teaspoons of sweet Spanish paprika and add a little spice by adding some crushed chili flakes. Works a treat and isn’t overpowering with too much spice!

toasted sweet paprika in a frying pan

Sweet or dry sherry:

Really either will do, but I’ve found better results with adding a dash of sweet sherry in the middle of the cooking process. If you add some lemon zest at the same time, it really brings out the flavor.

a earthenware dish sits filled with sizzling garlic shrimp called gambas al ajillo in Spanish

Equipment needed to make gambas al ajillo

  • 1 large 30cm (12 inch) skillet (or a few smaller clay pots with a 1-2 inch lip)

Ingredients

Method (step-by-step)

  • 1 kg / 2.2lb shrimp (heads removed and fully peeled)
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 1 small onion (optional)
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of sweet Spanish paprika
  • ½ teaspoon of dried chili flakes (add more if you like more heat!)
  • 3/4 cup (200 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shot (60 ml) fine sherry wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 lemon (half of the zest)
  • 1 pinch salt

    Method (step-by-step)

    1. Peel the shrimp completely, without the shells and heads, and season lightly with a pinch of salt and soak in chilled water for 10 minutes. 

    2. Remove the shrimp from the water and set aside. Meanwhile, peel the garlic and cut into thin slices.

    3. Heat a large skillet and lightly toast the paprika for 1 minute. Remove from the skillet and set aside for use later.

    4. In the skillet, set to medium heat, add half of the olive oil and once hot add the finely chopped onion. Cook the onion until golden, then add the sliced garlic. Cook for around 3-4 minutes or until the garlic starts to golden slightly.

    5. Add the chili, toasted paprika, and stir through. Cook for another minute.

    6. Add the remaining oil and give it a minute to heat up. Add all of the shrimp and cook for around 3-4 minutes a side or until golden. Once you flip the shrimp, add the sherry and a little lemon zest and stir occasionally to allow the shrimp to collect with the garlic and spices.

    7. Once everything has slightly browned, remove from the heat and sprinkle with some fresh parsley. Optionally, a squeeze of lemon works great as well!

    To serve:

    Either serve in small clay pots or just serve the skillet on a wooden chopping board. Always serve this dish with a mountain of fresh bread!

    close up shot of an earthenware dish filled with gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) and topped with some chopped parsley

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    a earthenware dish sits filled with sizzling garlic shrimp called gambas al ajillo in Spanish

    Gambas al ajillo (Spanish Garlic shrimp)

    Byron
    From the dusty central plains to the islands plopped in the azure waters of the Mediterranean, you’ll find the delicious aroma of Gambas al ajillo (Garlic shrimp) wafting from all regions of Spain. 
    This recipe is quick and super easy to make and can be made in around 15 minutes. Best of all doesn’t require any special equipment or fancy ingredients! Get your skillets ready, let’s make Spain's famous tapas dish, gambas al ajillo!
    5 from 4 votes
    Prep Time 10 mins
    Cook Time 10 mins
    Total Time 20 mins
    Course Appetizer, dinner, seafood, Spanish, tapas, treat
    Cuisine Mediterranean, pescatarian, Seafood, spanish
    Servings 4 people (tapas)
    Calories 343 kcal

    Equipment

    • 1 12 inch skillet
    • 1 6 inch earthenware dish (optional)

    Ingredients
      

    • 1 lb shrimp/400 grams of large raw shrimp
    • 12 large garlic cloves
    • 1 small onion optional
    • 1 heaped teaspoons of sweet Spanish paprika
    • ½ teaspoon of dried chili flakes add more if you like more heat!
    • 1/2 cup 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 large shot 60 ml fine sherry wine
    • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley optional for garnish
    • 1 lemon half of the zest
    • 1 pinch salt

    Instructions
     

    • Peel the shrimp completely, without the shells and heads, and season lightly with a pinch of salt. Soak in chilled water for 10 minutes.
      1 lb shrimp/400 grams of large raw shrimp
      a small stack of peeled raw shrimp
    • Remove the shrimp from the water and set them aside. Meanwhile, peel the garlic and cut it into thin slices.
      12 large garlic cloves
      a small glass ramikin sits on a wooden board filled with sliced garlic
    • In the skillet, set to medium heat, add half of the olive oil, and once hot add the finely chopped onion. Cook the onion until golden, then add the sliced garlic. Cook for around 3-4 minutes or until the garlic starts to golden slightly.
      1 small onion, 12 large garlic cloves
      a frying pan with some fried onion
    • Add the remaining oil and give it a minute to heat up. Add all of the shrimp and cook for around 3 minutes on each side or until golden.
      1/2 cup 100 ml extra virgin olive oil, 1 lb shrimp/400 grams of large raw shrimp
      shrimp, galric, and onions in a frying pan
    • Once you flip the shrimp, add the sherry and a little lemon zest and stir occasionally to allow the shrimp to collect with the garlic and spices.
      1 large shot, 1 lemon
      paprika, shrimp, onions, and garlic in a frying pan
    • Add the chili, and toasted paprika, and stir through. Cook for another minute.
      1 heaped teaspoons of sweet Spanish paprika, 1 pinch salt
      a ramikin sits on a counter filled with bright red ground paprika
    • Once everything has slightly browned, remove from the heat and sprinkle with some fresh parsley.
      1 tablespoon chopped parsley
      a large frying pan sits on a wooden counter that's topped with garlic shrimp (called gambas al ajillo in Spanish)
    • To serve:
    • Either serve in small clay pots or just serve the skillet on a wooden chopping board. Always serve this dish with a mountain of fresh bread!
      a earthenware dish sits filled with sizzling garlic shrimp called gambas al ajillo in Spanish

    Video

    Nutrition

    Serving: 100gCalories: 343kcalCarbohydrates: 6.5gProtein: 21.9gFat: 24.9gSaturated Fat: 3.7gCholesterol: 195mgSodium: 266mgPotassium: 282mgFiber: 1.2gSugar: 1.3gCalcium: 65mgIron: 4mg
    Keyword gambas al ajillo, garlic, seafood, shrimp, Spanish cuisine, tapas
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

    Tips and FAQs

    How long does garlic shrimp take to make?

    • Preparation time: 10 minutes
    • Cooking time: 10 minutes
    • Total time: 20 minutes

    Is garlic shrimp easy to make?

    Yep! Our step-by-step recipe guides you through all the steps to make the perfect garlic shrimp recipe.

    What are the best shrimp to use?

    For the best results, source fresh raw shrimp that are around 60-80 grade in size. They are easier to peel and offer excellent flavor. Always request sustainably sourced shrimp from your local fishmonger or check the origin of the shrimp before purchasing. 

    Can you use frozen shrimp to make garlic shrimp?

    Absolutely, just make sure you allow enough time to thaw the shrimp from frozen. This should take around 1 hour at room temperature. Never thaw shrimp in the direct sun. 

    Can I cook frozen shrimp without thawing?

    Never cook shrimp directly from frozen as it may cause them to become undercooked in the middle or become tough and chewy. Always thaw your shrimp before cooking. 

    Where does garlic shrimp originate from?

    Garlic shrimp (Gambas al ajillo in Spanish) originates from the central and southern regions of Spain, including Andalusia and the capital region of Madrid. 

    How long should shrimp cook?

    Shrimp require around 3 minutes a side in a skillet or frying pan on medium-high heat. Once cooked, the shrimp will become an opaque white color with some orange coloring.

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