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Gambas al Ajillo | Garlic Shrimp

Gambas al ajillo is a common, popular bar dish throughout much of Spain, and it really is as simple as the name implies. It’s all about showing off really top notch seafood in a straightforward way. Shrimp are simply sautéed and served with lots of garlic. The shrimp are always cooked with the head and shell on. Diners first break off and suck out the head, then peel and eat the tails. The extremely flavorful oil is then mopped up with good bread. It’s messy eating, but if you have good quality fresh shrimp, they are delicious. Don’t overcook the shrimp or they dry out! You want to just barely cook them through, and serve immediately.

The dish is generally served simply seasoned with salt. You can top them with parsley or toss in a bit of chile flakes, but I rarely, if ever, have seen even these simple embellishments in Spain. All you need is garlic and really nice shrimp.

The shrimp are less messy to cook and peel if you first trim off the long “whiskers” with scissors.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a tapa)

  • 5 or 6 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in very thin sheets

  • 1 lb Shrimp, head and shells on – long “whiskers” trimmed off with scissors

  • Oil for cooking

  • Salt

1. Add a generous amount of oil and the garlic to a heavy-bottomed sauté pan on a medium flame. Stir regularly as the oil heats up, and as soon as the garlic just barely begins to brown, remove it from the pan and reserve.

2. Turn the flame to medium-high and add the shrimp, along with a generous pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring or tossing regularly, until the shrimp are just barely cooked through. Mix the garlic back in and serve hot, immediately.

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