Gambas al Ajillo

Quite spicy, intensely aromatic and abundantly flavorful, this favorite Spanish tapas dish is one of the great treasures of Iberian cuisine. Served with a potent sangria, crusty garlic bread and eaten with someone you care about, it makes a perfect light meal.


  • 20 peeled prawns (gambas)
  • 3 Tablespoons of olive oil (aceite de oliva)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped (ajo)
  • 2 chilli peppers, dried (guindillas)
  • pinch of cayenne or red pepper (pimentón picante)


  1. Put olive oil, garlic cloves, chili peppers, and cayenne pepper in an earthenware ramekin. Heat the ramekin at medium heat or until the oil begins to sizzle.
  2. Meanwhile peel and wash the prawns. Dry them off with a paper towel and add them to the ramekin.
  3. Cook the prawns for about six minutes, 3 minutes on either side, or until they begin to turn pink and curl slightly.
  4. Serve immediately with sliced, toasted garlic bread.

Chef’s notes:

Traditionally Gambas al Ajillo and other tapas are served in earthenware ramekins or cazuelas de barro in Spanish. While any frying pan or saucepan will do, you can easily find these ramekins for one euro or less in Spain.

The advantage of cooking in ramekins is you serve the dish in the ramekin immediately from the stove-top, which allows the prawns to continue cooking in the oil even after they’ve been served. The ramekins also look nice on the table and don’t take up much room, which is helpful if you’re preparing four or five tapas all at once.

Some Spaniards call this dish Gambas al Pil Pil (“pil pil” sounds a lot like spluttering oil) because the prawns are still sizzling when they’re served. Be warned, however, that they are hot and will burn your tongue. Patience is the virtue to be learned here.

As with every other tapas dish, Gambas al Ajillo is traditionally served with a bowl of bread. We’ve adopted the habit from Spanish friends of making room in the ramekin to soak pieces of bread in the oil before eating them. Spaniards call these soggy pieces of bread barcos or “boats.”


Theoretically, this dish can also be made with Langoustines, crayfish, small lobster tails and claws or king crab legs. Adjust the amount of Chili Peppers and cayenne to suit your tolerance for spicy food.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)
Cooking time: 6 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 2

Meal type: hors d’oerves

Culinary tradition: Spanish

My rating 5 stars:  ★★★★★ 1 review(s)

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