Gambas al Ajillo

I do like hosting dinners and lunches. Thinking of a theme, planning the menu, deciding which of my three (grand total!) plate settings I will use, mapping out the logistics of getting everything done in between work and other duties. I use up tons of note paper drawing up lists (I love doing this…I never have less then 3 pads of paper at a time), using different colored pens (all metallic…yes, I need my "bling" sometimes too) to categorize different items and tasks.

Sometimes though, the heart and mind may be willing but the body weak. C and I are not always up to the task of planning and executing an 8-10 people sit-down dinner (10 is the absolute max I can squeeze in my place for sit-down…not exactly Ina Garten, I know), including the post-meal clean up (sans dishwasher). We do still love having people over. So what’s the solution? The ubiquitous drinks party!

More relaxed and informal, having people over for drinks leaves you with less to prepare, as well as less to clean up afterwards. At the most you will be using small appetizer plates and forks, which are a snap to wash compared to dinner plates + soup bowl + maybe even salad plates + dessert plate + full-on cutlery. When it comes to food, you only have to think of a few well chosen finger foods and appetizers…easier to make and no less fun to plan and prepare.

This is something I love to cook when I have friends over for drinks because it can be eaten with a cocktail fork or even a toothpick, and you can make it in 5 minutes or less. I like to make this after my guests have just arrived (you want it served hot…and it’s done so fast that your guests won’t even notice you’re gone) and they all have their first drink in hand. There are usually some other cocktail snacks on the table already to keep them busy.

Gambas al Ajillo
(adapted from
Saveur magazine, November 2006 issue)
  • 150 grams shrimp (weight after being peeled and deveined)
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup parsley leaves, loosely packed
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon pimentón de la vera (dulce)
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Dried chili flakes, half a sili labuyo (bird’s eye chili), or any chili you like

- Slice the garlic cloves. Pile the parsley leaves over the sliced garlic, then sprinkle the pile with salt. Chop everything together. (You can do this earlier on the same day and keep the mix covered in the fridge)
- Heat the oil in a skillet. When the oil is hot toss the garlic/parsley mix and the chilis in. Let it sizzle for about 10-20 seconds, until aroma wafts up and hits your nose.
- Add the shrimp and immediately sprinkle pimentón over everything. Stir and check for seasoning. Add salt if needed.
- Cook until shrimp is just done. This will happen really fast (about 2 minutes, sometimes less) so watch it!
- Take it off the heat and serve immediately.
- Serves 2-3 as a single appetizer or more if you have other appetizers besides it.

You can serve this on the skillet while it is still sizzling (great drama!) or transfer to a serving plate. This is traditionally cooked and served in earthenware cazuelas but if you don’t have any, feel free to eschew tradition and serve them in retro neon-green bowls with kitschy plastic cocktail forks as I’ve done here. They are delicious on their own, but also great with bread for sopping up the juices (you will want to do this, trust me).

I looked over a lot of gambas recipes until I found one I liked. This one’s procedure is largely taken from Saveur’s November 2006 issue. The addition of pimentón is mine, as I really like the flavor it adds. I also feel that chopping the garlic and parsley together with the salt intensifies the flavor (this was the step taken from Saveur). I added a lot more garlic because: I love garlic, this is about shrimp cooked in garlic after all, and it keeps away vampires :)

Not just for cocktail parties, this makes a fabulous pasta sauce, simply as is, or with the addition of tomatoes. You can also dump the whole thing on a mound of steaming white rice and discover the delicious secret that most Filipinos have known about gambas for years! Cheers!