The Ultimate Gambas al Ajillo: Spanish Garlic Shrimp Perfection

Authentic Spanish Garlic Shrimp Recipe - Gambas al Ajillo

Gambas al Ajillo, or Spanish Garlic Shrimp, is a classic tapas bar favorite that’s sure to transport your taste buds straight to the sun-soaked shores of Spain. This irresistible dish combines succulent shrimp with layers of aromatic garlic, all bathed in fragrant olive oil. While it’s a simple recipe, mastering the art of perfect Gambas al Ajillo can elevate it from good to absolutely extraordinary.

In this recipe, we’ll unlock the secrets to creating shrimp that are juicy, tender, and bursting with flavor. You’ll learn how to infuse your dish with a chorus of garlic notes, from spicy and raw to mellow and sweet. Get ready to impress your guests (or treat yourself) with this show-stopping Spanish delicacy!

The Shrimp: Choosing Your Star Ingredient

The key to outstanding Gambas al Ajillo starts with selecting the right shrimp. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Opt for headless, shell-on shrimp for the best texture and flavor.
  • Frozen shrimp are often fresher than “fresh” shrimp at the seafood counter.
  • The shells are packed with flavor – don’t throw them away!

We’ll use a clever three-step process to maximize both the flesh and shell flavors, resulting in shrimp that are truly unforgettable.

Garlic Galore: Building Layers of Flavor

Garlic is the co-star of this dish, and we’re using it in three different ways:

  1. Raw and minced in the marinade for a spicy kick
  2. Smashed and infused in oil for a mellow sweetness
  3. Thinly sliced and fried for a crispy, golden garnish

This triple threat of garlic techniques creates a complex, irresistible flavor profile that will have everyone reaching for more.

The Magic Marinade

Our marinade does double duty, enhancing both flavor and texture:

  • Salt acts as a brine, locking in juiciness
  • Baking soda creates a delightful crunch
  • Olive oil and minced garlic start the flavor-building process

This quick marinade transforms your shrimp from ordinary to extraordinary in just minutes!

Liquid Gold: The Shrimp-Infused Oil

The generous amount of olive oil in this dish isn’t just for cooking – it’s an integral part of the final product. We’ll infuse it with intense flavors:

  • Shrimp shells for a deep, oceanic essence
  • Smashed garlic for mellow sweetness
  • Red pepper flakes (or dried chiles) for a subtle heat

The result? A fragrant, flavorful oil that’s perfect for dipping crusty bread into after you’ve devoured all the shrimp!

Perfecting the Cook

The final step is cooking your marinated shrimp in the infused oil. The key here is timing – you want them just cooked through, still juicy and tender. Remember, it’s better to slightly undercook than overcook, as they’ll continue to cook a bit from residual heat.

Ready to Dive In? Let’s Make Gambas al Ajillo!


  • 12 cloves garlic
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled, shells reserved
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch red pepper flakes, or a 1-inch piece dried guajillo chile
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves


  1. Prepare the garlic: Finely mince 4 cloves and place in a large bowl. Smash 4 cloves and set aside. Thinly slice the remaining 4 cloves.
  2. Marinate the shrimp: In the bowl with minced garlic, combine shrimp, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and baking soda. Toss well and let sit at room temperature.
  3. Infuse the oil: In a large skillet, combine shrimp shells, smashed garlic, remaining olive oil, and pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until shells turn deep red and garlic is golden, about 10 minutes. Strain the oil, pressing on solids to extract maximum flavor.
  4. Cook the shrimp: Heat the infused oil over medium-high heat. Fry sliced garlic until golden, about 1 minute. Add marinated shrimp and cook, stirring constantly, until just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Stir in sherry vinegar and parsley. Season with salt to taste and serve immediately.

Nutritional Information

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
666 Calories
57g Fat
8g Carbs
32g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2
Amount per serving
Calories 666
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 57g 74%
Saturated Fat 8g 42%
Cholesterol 286mg 95%
Sodium 2097mg 91%
Total Carbohydrate 8g 3%
Dietary Fiber 3g 11%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 32g
Vitamin C 7mg 34%
Calcium 186mg 14%
Iron 2mg 12%
Potassium 378mg 8%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

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