Gambas Al Ajillo

Recipe by Kelly Crull

While putting on prawn puppet shows for your friends is possibly the most fun part of cooking with prawns (see photo, right), a close second is sitting around a table enjoying good conversation and eating a plate or two of sizzling prawns with a bowl of bread. This is an art form you’ll learn well if you spend any amount of time in a Spanish tapas bar, and with this recipe, you can do the same at home or wherever you find yourself with an appetite for prawns.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Servings: 2


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)


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. Meanwhile peel and wash the prawns. Dry them off with a paper towel and add them to the ramekin. Cook the prawns for about six minutes, 3 minutes on either side, or until they begin to turn pink and curl slightly. Serve immediately* with a bowl of bread*.


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 stovetop, 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. I’ve adopted the habit from Spanish friends of making room in the ramekin to soak pieces of bread in the oil before eatingi them. Spaniards call these soggy pieces of bread barcos or “boats.”

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