Gambas al Ajillo: Garlicky Shrimp Saute

Time15 minutes
YieldsServes 1 to 2
Gambas al ajillo prepared by chef Aitor Zabala at Somni restaurant.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
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This recipe uses sherry to round out the flavors of this classic Spanish dish. Smart techniques also highlight the ingredients: Start with raw garlic slices in cold oil, then warm both together so the garlic cooks evenly all the way through and infuses the oil with a deep aroma. Do the same with whole dried guindilla chiles, which deliver a smoky spiciness. You can buy them online or in specialty stores, or substitute other small dried red chiles. Finally, using a Japanese ceramic donabe pot in place of the traditional Spanish terracotta will allow for the evenest heat distribution, but either works, as does a Dutch oven or heavy skillet. You can double the quantities below for a larger serving; just be sure to use a larger pot as well to avoid overcrowding the shrimp.


Prepare the shrimp by snipping off the legs with kitchen shears. Then carefully push the shells off the bodies. Separate the shrimp heads from the tails by using a sharp knife to cut off the heads with one-third-inch of the tails attached to keep the juices inside the heads.


Generously coat the bottom of a medium donabe, terracotta pot or Dutch oven with the canola and olive oils. Add the garlic, sprinkle lightly with salt and set over medium-low heat. Bring to a sizzle, stirring occasionally, until the garlic chips start to dance and turn golden brown around the edges, about two minutes. Don’t let them burn. Transfer the garlic to a paper-towel-lined plate and reserve.


Add the chiles to the hot oil and cook, turning, until a shade darker, about 30 seconds. Transfer to the plate with the garlic.


Add the shrimp heads, sprinkle lightly with salt and cook, turning occasionally, for 30 seconds. Add the shrimp tails, sprinkle lightly with salt and cook, turning, for 15 seconds. Return the garlic and chiles to the pot and shake and swirl the pot so the garlic coats everything. Add the sherry and let the alcohol burn out, about one minute. Zest half of the lemon half directly into the pot, then stir in half of the parsley. When the shrimp become opaque and their juices emulsify with the oil into a sauce, remove from the heat. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley, squeeze in a few drops of lemon juice and serve immediately.

Gambas al Ajillo with Shrimp Tails: Substitute eight extra-large or jumbo shrimp tails for the whole shrimp and cook, turning, for 30 seconds before returning the garlic and chiles to the pot.
Recipe adapted from Aitor Zabala.