Gambas al Ajillo / by Anne

gambas and romesco crostini Yesterday I talked about food that changes your mind.   I'm still thinking about that.  Here's a recipe that changed Michael's mind about shrimp.   Shrimp was definitely on his "no thanks" list until one evening a few years ago, in Spain.

We first tasted this dish, gambas al ajillo (shrimp with sizzling garlic), in a Madrid bar, where this was the only food they served.  We had just made friends with some fellow travelers, and they were excited to try this.  Michael, being polite, went along with this idea, although I know he wouldn't have opted to go here if it were just the two of us.   We shared a cazuelita (a small, shallow earthenware dish which you can use cook over a low flame) full of gambas, still sizzling in the dish with the garlic  and chiles, immersed in pungent olive oil.  It was much too small, and we were much too in love with this dish.  Our new friends were traveling on a tighter budget than we were, so for some strange polite reason we didn't go back and get more, but instead continued on with our tapas hopping.  I still regret this.  This serving of shrimp changed Michael's mind about shrimp forever, and it made me love it even more deeply.  We both look upon those 15 minutes in that bar with fondness and longing. 

Fortunately, I have a book called The New Spanish Table, and it has many recipes that aptly recreate some flavor celebrations we experienced in Spain.   Thank goodness for this book.  This preparation seemed so simple when we saw it in action, but it was helpful to have the book reassure me just how simple it truly is.  Granted, I did buy a cazuela (a large version of the cazuelita we had at that Madrid bar) solely to make this shrimp, but it's really not necessary.  A heavy pan or skillet will work fine as well.

Gambas al Ajillo

Sizzling Garlic Shrimp, adapted from The New Spanish Table


  • 1 pound shrimp
  • kosher salt
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small chile, such as arbol, crumbled--or 1/2 tsp dried chile flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 T minced flatleaf parsley


  1. Pat the shrimp dry, and salt generously. 
  2. In a cazuela or heavy sauté pan, slowly warm the oil until it is shimmery and aromatic.  Add the garlic and chile.  After it begins to sizzle gently, cook for about two minutes. 
  3. Add shrimp and cook just until pink, about three minutes.
  4. At the last moment, add the flatleaf parsley.
  5. Serve in the pan at the table with lots of bread for dipping into the oil.  If serving as a crostini, spread Romesco sauce* onto the bread and place shrimp onto the sauce, as shown in the picture above.

Serves 4 as a heavy tapa.

*Romesco sauce recipe to come.