“Make your signature dish.” We’ve heard the instructions a thousand times on countless food-based reality competitions. A signature dish is supposed to embody who you are as a chef (or home cook in my case!) and highlight your culinary point of view. When I think about my signature dish, only one comes to mind: gambas al ajillo. The classic Spanish tapa that combines shrimp with a sizzling and slightly spicy garlic oil is one of my all time favorite meals.
This dish ties into my culinary past as it was while I was living in Spain that I really developed a true love of food and an extreme passion for cooking and entertaining. It’s not a complex dish, gambas are something a Spanish grandmother would make, and that also reflects my cooking style. Rarely are my dishes complicated and I prefer to make food that is simply delicious.
I’m most happy when I’m hosting some sort of party and these shrimp are perfect for any fete, be it an intimate gathering or a large bash. The recipe can easily be doubled and I recommend marinating the shrimp one day in advance. If you only try one of my recipes, please make these gambas. You won’t be disappointed!
Gambas Al Ajilo
10 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (also known as Pimenton)
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Crusty bread, for serving
- Place the garlic cloves in a food processor. Using the pulse button, chop the garlic until finely minced.
- Transfer the garlic to a large sealable plastic baggie. Add the olive oil, red pepper flakes, and paprika. Stir to combine.
- Season the shrimp generously with salt and black pepper. Add to the bag with the oil mixture and seal. Toss the shrimp with the oil, making sure to coat each shrimp with garlic, paprika, and oil. Place in the refrigerator overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Transfer the shrimp and the oil mixture to an oven-safe dish (preferably a cazuela). Cook the shrimp in the oven for 8-10 minutes until the shrimp is plump, pink, and just cooked through. Serve immediately with crusty bread for mopping up the tasty oil. Enjoy!