Gambas Al Ajillo

Gambas al Ajillo

One of the best Gamas Al Ajillo I’ve ever eaten was in Barcelona, not only were the ingredients fresh, there were a couple of things about the preparation that set it apart from those I’ve had in the US. The first thing I noticed as it was placed on my table was an insane amount of huge chunky garlic studded all around the shrimp. But while present, the aroma of garlic wasn’t overpowering. That’s because the garlic wasn’t grated, the bits were more like pungent punctuation marks rather than a blanket of overwhelming stink. This allowed room for the sweet, briny flavor of the shrimp to come through, which was complimented by the earthy sweetness of the peppers.

The second thing I noticed was a lack of paprika. In the US, Gambas Al Ajillo often shows up looking more like Shrimp Scampi sprinkled with paprika. Instead, there were flakes of dried chili, which imbued the oil with a vermillion hue. As the name implies, that was it; no butter, no parsley, and certainly no breadcrumbs.

For my version, I decided to up the garlic ante a bit more by adding in some chopped garlic scapes (the part of the garlic that grows above ground). Scapes are in season in spring as garlic begins to sprout, and have a wonderful crunchy texture, with a sweet, mild garlic flavor. In this dish, they also add some great color to contrast the chili red oil and shrimp.

One of the best parts of this dish is to be able to sop up all the flavorful oil at the bottom of the pan with some crusty bread. Sadly I was so excited about the prospect of making this with scapes, I completely forgot that I didn’t have any bread in the house. Desperate to find some kind of starch to soak up the flavors, I uncovered a tupperware of pasta in the back of the fridge. While this pasta was already sauced, I would totally boil some fresh pasta and toss the finished gambas and garlic with it, should I be lacking bread the next time around.

On the Peko Peko Cookbook front, we launched the website and blog this weekend. Go check out the website to get previews of some of the recipes that will be appearing in the book like these Green Tea “Kit Kats”. We’re also still looking for sponsors to help pay the printing costs of the book.

Gambas Al Ajillo

serves 4 as an appetizer
1/4 cup olive oil
10 cloves of garlic
2 dried cascabel chiles (or 1 medium dried guajillo chile), seeds removed and crushed into flakes
1 pound shrimp
1 tablespoon cognac
handful of garlic scapes cut into 2″ lengths
salt and pepper

Add the oil, garlic and chile pepper to a saute pan and heat over medium high heat until the garlic is fragrant and the oil has turned slightly red.

Turn up the heat to high, then add the shrimp in a single layer. Fry until cooked on one side, then flip and fry on the other. Add the cognac and garlic scapes and stir fry until the garlic scapes are bright green and tender. Salt and pepper to taste, then transfer to a bowl and serve immediately with bread.

  • Kath

    What a gorgeous dish; it certainly does call for some great bread to sop up all the flavorful juices.

  • Nisrine M

    I use lots of garlic in my shrimp. It’s so good with it.
    I love the simplicity and freshness of some Spanish dishes. No wonder they’re so memorable!

  • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking

    Beautiful photo! This looks bright and delicious.

  • Jean

    This post has made me miss Barcelona but I think you’ve done wonderful justice to the original version of gambas al ajillo. Yours looks excellent!

    Just hearing about the Peko Peko cookbook. What a wonderful idea and so many awesome bloggers are participating. I’m certain it will be a winning collaboration. :-)

  • Stacey Snacks

    Peko Peko! I love it!
    and this shrimp dish is just what I am going to use my garlic scapes in.

  • Anonymous

    That looks amazing and kinda simple to make.

  • Rachel

    Oh my goodness. The shrimp with chili pepper looks absolutely divine! And I’ve been seeing the Peko Peko cookbook mentioned in several places. Need to get a copy!

  • Yi @ Yi Reservation

    I tried something similar like this at a restaurant. Will definitely cook it at home soon. Thanks

  • Kalbala

    Well, you did end up giving a recipe, but I really like your approach and philosophy a lot. The dish looks amazing too! Ken

  • Kimberly Fujitaki

    wow this is just gorgeous. pasta or bread both sound fantastic. beautiful plate


  • Lori Fredrich

    Mmm. You’re right on with that oil sopping. Best part of almost any dish.
    This looks awesome.

  • Heather

    You’re getting me excited for my upcoming trip to Barcelona! Gambas al Ajillo is one of my favorite things period.

  • Jonny & Amy

    if you were lucky enough to have your gambas al ajillo with the large red mediterranean shrimp – langostino moruno (gamba rosa/roja) – that they also often do a la plancha in Barcelona, then it would have been even better. great use of garlic scapes!

  • Ima Cherie

    Hi Marc thank you for sharing the recipe :) 
    it goes well with potato and carrot puree 


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  • zoe michu

    Splended, but why in English. Queremos leer lo en español para practicar.


I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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