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Gambas al Ajillo (Spanish Spicy Garlic Shrimp)

Try this Gambas al Ajillo recipe for a classic Spanish Dish!

Gambas al ajillo, sometimes called Spanish Garlic Shrimp in English, is one of the most famous and beloved tapas and raciones in Spain.

It’s a classic Spanish dish that never gets old and is very easy to make in just 15 minutes with shrimp or prawns, olive oil, garlic, cayenne peppers, and white wine.

Don’t forget to serve it with lots of white bread to dip into the delicious white wine sauce. 

dish of spanish garlic shrimp sitting on counter with red cloth in front.
Delicious Gambas al ajillo just waiting to be enjoyed.

Gambas al ajillo can be eaten as a tapa, as a ración with other dishes, or as a first course before the main meal.

Tapas are small bites that are served with a drink in some parts of Spain, while raciones (ración means “portion”) are larger portions that are shared and eaten with other dishes.

Besides gambas al ajillo, other classic raciones include calamares a la romana and magra con tomate (pork in tomato sauce).

Ingredients

ingredients to make garlic shrimp in bowls on counter with labels.
The ingredients to make Gambas al ajillo!

Here are the ingredients you will need to make this recipe!

  • Shrimp – Fresh, cleaned shrimp. You can also use prawns. Frozen shrimp will also work, but they must be fully thawed and patted dry before cooking.
  • Garlic cloves – Fresh garlic cloves for the best flavor.
  • Dried cayenne peppers – Alternatively, use another type of dried chili pepper or red pepper flakes.
  • Olive oil – Use good quality olive oil for the best flavor. Avoid using any other type of oil.
  • Black pepper – To add a hint of spice.
  • Salt – To enhance the overall flavor; adjust to taste.
  • White wine – A white wine of your choice; we recommend a decent quality semi-dry white wine.
  • Fresh parsley – Optional garnish.

Recipe Tips

Before you tackle this easy Spanish garlic shrimp recipe, read through these tips and tricks first so that the recipe turns out well:

  • This recipe will be ready in no time. It is very important to act quickly or you risk overcooking the shrimp. To make it easier, have everything ready and measured out before you start cooking, including pre-measured wine. 
  • This dish can be made with any kind of shrimp or prawn – just make sure they are fresh or fully defrosted and patted dry. Also, adjust the cooking time according to their size. If using smaller shrimp, infuse the oil with the garlic slices before adding the shrimp to avoid overcooking. 
  • Be generous with fresh garlic for an authentic, garlicky flavor. Avoid using garlic powder. You can adjust the exact amount to taste.
  • Slice rather than chop the garlic as it is less likely to burn.
  • Traditionally, this dish is made with cayenne peppers, but other types of chili peppers or red pepper flakes also work. Adjust the exact amount according to your desired spice level. Avoid ground cayenne pepper as it can be too overpowering.
  • You can use any white wine you like, but I like to use a semi-dry white wine since the slight sweetness balances the flavors well. Quality is important, but it doesn’t have to be an expensive wine.
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How to Make Gambas al Ajillo – Step by Step Instructions

In this section, you will see exactly how to make this Garlic shrimp recipe. We’ve included all of the recipe process photos below so that you can follow along at home and have a visual guide as you cook.

If you don’t care for visuals, you can jump ahead to the recipe card at the end of the post.

black knife on wooden cutting board slicing garlic cloves with other ingredients around.
Clean the shrimp and slice the garlic.

If your shrimp are not already cleaned, peel and devein them. Then set them aside.

Also, peel the garlic cloves and slice them. If you slice them, they are less likely to burn than if you chop it.

raw shrimp in black frying pan covered in black pepper with other spices aorund.
Season the shrimp with salt and pepper.

In a medium-sized pan, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the cleaned shrimp, season with salt and black pepper, and cook over low heat until they begin to change color.

Stir occasionally.

cooked shrimp in black pan cooking with oil and dried peppers.
Add the cayenne peppers and garlic.

Immediately add the sliced garlic and the cayenne peppers to the pan. Stir well and keep cooking over low heat until the garlic is golden and fragrant.

hand pouring glass of white wine into black frying pan with wooden spoon sticking out.
Add the white wine.

Pour in the white wine and stir to combine.

cooked garlic shrimp sitting in black frying pan on counter top with other ingredients around.
The sauce will reduce slightly.

Let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through and the sauce has reduced slightly.

hand dipping bread into bowl of cooked garlic shrimp.
You can garnish the garlic shrimp with some chopped parsley.

Garnish with fresh chopped parsley (optional). Serve immediately with some white crusty bread to dip in the sauce. Enjoy!

Storage Tips

Gambas al ajillo is a dish meant to be eaten right away while still hot, otherwise, the shrimp tend to become stiff.

However, if you do end up having leftovers, you can store them in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days. 

FAQ

What are gambas al ajillo made of?

Gambas al ajillo – or Spanish Garlic Shrimp – are made with shrimp (or prawns) cooked in olive oil with fresh garlic, dried cayenne peppers, and white wine. There are different variations of the recipe with slightly different ingredients, such as paprika and sherry.

What is ajillo sauce made of?

The simple garlic “sauce” (more like a broth) is often made with olive oil, white wine, salt, pepper, and dried cayenne peppers. Depending on the exact recipe, it may include different ingredients.

Who invented gambas al ajillo?

Gambas al ajillo is a traditional Spanish dish, but the exact place of origin isn’t fully known. Today, it’s a dish known and enjoyed all over Spain – especially in the capital, Madrid.

Related Recipes

If you’re searching for Spanish recipes that go great as raciones or tapas, here are some more tasty ideas!

large red dish sitting on counter of cooked garlic shrimp.

Spanish Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo)

Swimming in a delicious garlicky white wine sauce, Spanish Garlic Shrimp are a flavorful tapa, ración, or appetizer. Eat them with white crusty bread to soak up all the garlicky goodness!
5 from 1 vote
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Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 2

Ingredients

  • 1 pound shrimp, or prawns (raw and cleaned)
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 cayenne peppers, dried; adjust to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 cup white wine
  • a sprinkle of fresh parsley for garnish, optional

Instructions

  • If your shrimp are not cleaned, peel and devein them. Set aside.
    1 pound shrimp
  • Peel and finely slice the garlic cloves. Set aside.
    6 garlic cloves
  • In a medium-sized pan, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the cleaned shrimp, season with salt and black pepper, and cook over low heat until they begin to change color. Stir regularly.
    1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Immediately add the sliced garlic and the cayenne peppers to the pan. Stir well and keep cooking over low heat until the garlic is golden and fragrant.
    2-3 cayenne peppers
  • Pour in the white wine and stir to combine. Let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through and the sauce has reduced slightly.
    1 cup white wine
  • Garnish with chopped fresh parsley (optional). Serve immediately with white crusty bread to dip in the sauce.
    a sprinkle of fresh parsley for garnish

Notes

  • It is very important to work quickly or you risk overcooking the shrimp. To make it easier, have everything ready and measured out before you start cooking.
  • This dish can be made with any type of shrimp or prawn – just make sure they are fresh or fully thawed and patted dry. Adjust the cooking time based on their size. If using smaller shrimp, infuse the oil with the garlic slices before adding the shrimp to avoid overcooking. 
  • Be generous with fresh garlic for an authentic, garlicky flavor. Avoid using garlic powder. You can adjust the exact amount to taste. Slice rather than chop the garlic, as it is less likely to burn.
  • Instead of cayenne peppers, you can use other types of chili peppers or red pepper flakes. Adjust the exact amount to taste. Avoid ground cayenne pepper since it can be too overpowering.
  • You can use any white wine you like, but a decent quality semi-dry white wine works well. It doesn’t have to be an expensive wine, but it should be of good quality.

Nutrition

Calories: 341kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 32g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 0.02g | Cholesterol: 286mg | Sodium: 2462mg | Potassium: 498mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 843IU | Vitamin C: 68mg | Calcium: 158mg | Iron: 2mg

This nutritional information has been estimated by an online nutrition calculator. It should only be seen as a rough calculation and not a replacement for professional dietary advice.

Course Appetizer, Main Course, Tapas
Cuisine Spanish
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This recipe was contributed by
Alba Luna Meyer
Born and raised in the Southeast of Spain, Alba is a photographer and a foodie. Always hungry for new flavors and recipes, but with a big passion for traditional recipes that speak about roots and family. You can always find her talking about food, photographing it, or cooking! Obviously, she is team “tortilla de patatas con cebolla”.

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