June 12, 2011
I don't cook many Spanish dishes, simply because I'm not particularly familiar with Spanish cuisine. However, while looking at some food blogs and cookbooks I saw a Spanish dish that looked too good to pass up: Gambas al Ajillo, or Shrimp in Garlic. In Spain, the dish is apparently usually served as a tapas, or appetizer, but I figured it would serve just as well as a main dish. The only problem was, I couldn't decide which of the various recipes to try. They all looked pretty good, but they varied a fair amount in terms of ingredients.
I finally decided to make my own recipe, taking guidance from the recipes I'd consulted. Some of the recipes I consulted had a bit of a Mexican spin to them, rather than being strictly Spanish, so I decided to follow that idea somewhat, as I had recently found another Mexican recipe that I thought would go well with the shrimp as a side dish.
One thing all the recipes I saw had in common was what looked like an extraordinary amount of garlic. That sounded good to me. They also all called for dried red peppers of some sort, ranging from the generic "crushed red pepper flakes" to some Spanish pepper varieties I've never tried. Going with the Mexican spin, I decided to use a dried ancho chili, which I reduced to small bits by tossing it in my spice grinder for a few seconds. Paprika was also a universal ingredient, though the Mexican-spin recipes sometimes deleted the paprika in favor of cumin. I decided to use some of both, and made the further decision to use whole cumin seed in place of ground cumin,
The result was pretty darn good. I can see why this dish is quite popular. The garlic flavor was prominent but not the least bit overwhelming. In fact, all of the seasonings balanced each other nicely, and none overwhelmed the sweet flavor of the shrimp. Spicy, savory, sweet and a bit tart... this dish had a nicely complex mix of flavors. Since it was also really easy and quick to make, I expect I'll be using this recipe again in the near future. This dish has also sparked my interest in Spanish cuisine, so I will probably be trying more Spanish dishes one of these days.
Gambas al Ajillo
yield = 2 main dish or 4 appetizer servings
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 garlic cloves, chopped
1 dried ancho chili, ground or finely crushed
1 teaspoon Spanish (smoked) paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1 pound large, fresh shrimp, peeled and
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 fresh lemon
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the minced garlic, chili , paprika and cumin seed and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute or until the oil has taken on a red-orange color.
Add the shrimp and cook without stirring for 2 minutes, then turn the shrimp over, add the white wine and the oregano and cook another minute or two.
When the wine is cooked mostly down, stir in the parsley. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter, squeeze the juice from the half lemon atop the shrimp. Serve with crusty bread for sopping.