My Favorite Tapas – Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp in garlic)

In yesterday’s post I mentioned stopping at the Columbia Restaurant for tapas.  I first learned about tapas from my mother who had been introduced to them when she stayed on the Spanish coast. The word “tapas” means a cover and it is said that it derives from Spaniards who wanted to protect their beverages from the flies so they would cover them with a bit of bread. 

 Today we use the word to describe appetizers or morsels served with sangria, beer, mojitos, or the beverage of your choice.  I like to order a bit of this and a bit of that but my favorite is gambas al ajillo (shrimp in garlic). 

You can easily duplicate the restaurant experience.  Don’t forget to pick up a baguette while you are shopping.  Tapas are always served with a hot baguette!

Gambas al  Ajillo (Shrimp in Garlic)

 Serves 4 for dinner or 8 for appetizers

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (use dried if must)
  • 1  tablespoon ancho chili powder (or 1 teaspoon paprika)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 4 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped (use dried if must)
  • salt
  • fresh ground pepper


There are two ways to prepare the shrimp – barbecued or in a pan.  Since this is summer I’ll start with the barbecued version.

Barbeque – Start the grill.  You will want it to be hot as the shrimp should cook quickly.  While elt the butter and mix in the olive oil and chopped garlic cloves, ancho chili powder,  and thyme..  Skewer the shrimp on wooden skewers that you have previously soaked in water. Brush the shrimp with the marinade and season with salt and pepper. While the shrimp is marinating, take the remaining marinade and put it in a small saucepan.  Heat the marinade until the garlic is gently cooked (don’t burn).  Add the red pepper flakes and lemon juice and remove the pan from the heat.  Now place your shrimp skewers on the grill and cook until they are pinkish brown, about 1 ½ minutes on each side. You don’t want them overcooked.  Remove the skewers and place the shrimp on a platter. Pour the heated marinade over it and finish by sprinkling the parsley over all. Serve with a hot crusty baguette. 

Kitchen – These is the minimalist or traditional approach.  In a wide, shallow sauté pan over high heat, warm the olive oil and butter. Aadd the Shrimp and Garlic and sauté quickly for about 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice, ancho chili powder, fresh thyme,  pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a shallow heated serving dish and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with a loaf of hot crusty baguette.

If you are serving this as a dinner rather than an appetizer, add a tossed salad of your choice.

About Shawn Phillips

As someone who has relocated several times – buying and selling houses of my own for personal and investment purposes – I can easily put myself in my clients’ shoes. I know what I needed from my Realtors and I attempt to provide that or better for my clients. My family relocated to Charleston six years ago and my love for the city and the lifestyle is one I enjoy sharing with others. Prior to entering real estate in the Low Country I was a hospital administrator for many years in Charleston and New York City and was a Realtor in Sarasota, Florida. Leveraging my experience, I pride myself in providing outstanding client service, availability, personal touches, multi-faceted marketing, and skilled negotiations. The level of trust given to me by a client is the greatest compliment I receive as a professional. It is the foundation of my practice. My dedication to each and every client is evident before, during, and after the sale!
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