Spanish Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo)

Gambas al Ajillo is a popular Spanish tapas, traditionally cooked and served in a terracotta dish. Plump juicy shrimp are cooked in chilli-garlic infused olive oil, creating a mouthwatering sauce that screams for toasted bread to sop up all the good stuff.

This simple, yet delicious recipe comes together in minutes once you have all the ingredients ready, making it an ideal party appetiser.


Please see recipe card for quantities

Notes on Ingredients and Substitutions

Shrimp: Use fresh or frozen, peeled and deveined, tail on or off (depending on your liking). I wouldn’t recommend leaving the shell on, you want to dip the shrimp in this addictive sauce. Pat dry the shrimp before cooking it in oil.

Extra virgin olive oil: Use good quality olive oil. Don’t worry if it seems like too much. The combination of ingredients and oil will result in a delicious sauce, perfect for sopping up.

Garlic: Don’t go short on the garlic, the final dish won’t taste too garlicky. The more, the better. Do not use a garlic press here. Thinly slice the garlic, to prevent it from burning.

Chilli Peppers: Crushed pepper flakes or one dry chilli pepper will do. Depending on the level of heat, I would start with 1/2 teaspoon of crushed peppers.

Dry Sherry: Replace with any dry white wine you have or omit the alcohol. The alcohol helps create the sauce and gives it another depth of flavour.

Salt and pepper: For seasoning the shrimp.

Smoked Paprika: This is not traditional, but I like sprinkling a bit, for both flavour and an appealing look.

Parsley: For garnishing.

How to Make Spanish Garlic Shrimp

  1. Make the garlic-infused olive oil: on low heat, poach the slices of garlic and chillies in olive oil, until soft and fragrant. Cook the garlic just until golden. (pic.1)
  2. Prepare shrimp: If using shelled, remove head (or leave it on for a dramatic effect), take off the legs, remove the shell, and devein by cutting along the back with a pairing knife, discarding vein. Dry shrimp with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. If using frozen shrimp, thaw them in the fridge overnight or if you’re in a hurry, submerge them in cold water for a few minutes. Once defrosted, make sure to pat them dry with a paper towel.
  3. Cook shrimp: Add the shrimp to the garlic-infused oil and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook until shrimp start turning pink, about 1 minute depending on the size of your shrimp (pic. 2), then flip, add sherry or wine and cook for a further minute or two. (pic. 3)
  4. Serve: Transfer into a serving bowl and sprinkle with parsley and smoked paprika (optional). Serve with toasted bread.

How to Serve and Store

This dish is best served straight away, either as a starter with crusty bread on the side, or pair it with rice and veggies, for a light and quick meal.

Frequently Asked Questions and Tips

What kind of shrimp should I use for gambas al ajillo? Look for raw, larger shrimp, as they are meatier and juicier. Both fresh and frozen work well. Keep in mind that this simple dish relies on the quality of the ingredients. If you have access to freshly caught shrimp or an ethically farmed source you trust, then that’s the way to go.

Can I cook this recipe for a crowd? Of course! Double or triple the recipe, and use an appropriate pan so that the shrimp are mostly submerged in olive oil.

Can I cut down on the oil? I haven’t tried cutting down on the oil because it just wouldn’t be a classic “Gambas all Ajillo”. For this recipe, the shrimp should be mostly submerged in oil while cooking.

TIP: Do not overcook the shrimp! Regardless of the size, the shrimp should take no longer than 3-5 minutes to cook. There is a fine line between perfectly cooked and overdone, so use your sense. As a guideline, once the shrimp start to become opaque and change colour, flip and cook until the other side is fully pink, making sure it doesn’t curl all the way into an “O” shape.

TIP: Don’t throw away the shells (is using shelled shrimp). Freeze them and make a stock for other seafood dishes such as paella. (recipe coming soon).

Spanish Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo)

Recipe by SabineCourse: AppetizersCuisine: SpanishDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time



A traditional mouthwatering Spanish tapas-style dish that comes together in minutes.


  • 10 oz shelled shrimp (300g shelled, about 14 medium size shrimp)

  • 5-6 garlic cloves, sliced

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (100 ml)

  • 1/2 tsp flaked chilli pepper or 1 small whole

  • 1/8 cup Dry sherry or white wine (30ml)

  • salt 1/4 teaspoon

  • pepper – to taste


  • For the garlic-infused olive oil: cook the garlic and chilli flakes on low heat, until the garlic is soft and fragrant.
  • Cook the shrimp: pat dry the shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Add to garlic oil and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until shrimp change colour, around 45 seconds, then flip, add sherry or wine (if using) and continue cooking for about 2-3 minutes.
  • Serve: transfer to a serving dish and enjoy straight away.


  • Yield: serves 2-3 as an appetiser.

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