If you’re having friends over for some holiday merrymaking, these Shrimp Gambas are a quick way to prepare a scrumptious appetizer.
Shrimps were often a mainstay at our dinner table. As a child, I noticed the larger the shrimps served, the more special the family event was. For everyday dinner fare, the classic Filipino halabos na hipon (steamed shrimps) was the usual. But if friends or family were visiting, my mother Lulu rolled out her Spanish-style Shrimp Gambas, also known as Gambas al Ajillo. It was pan-fried shrimps with plenty of garlic, swirling in a sweet tomato sauce.
Shrimp Gambas originated from Spain’s tapas bars, which came from the southern regions of Spain. In these parts near the coastline, seafood was an important part of their meals. There are different versions of Shrimp Gambas, where various spices and condiments are added. I chose the simplest way to do it – starting with the important ingredients of extra virgin olive oil, and plenty of garlic.
I recreated mom’s recipe and make it often in my American kitchen. I now realize why it was a favorite appetizer or dish my mom served. Shrimp Gambas cooks fast and easy, and the end result is an elegant, beautiful, and superb shrimp dish.
Ingredients and Equipment You Need
The basic ingredients are:
Fresh large shrimps, at least a pound (about 16 to 20 pieces)
Extra virgin olive oil
a dash of white wine
Salt and pepper
A large skillet, preferably non-stick
Start with fresh, large shrimps. Gambas traditionally uses very big shrimps. Remember that the shrimps shrink slightly when cooking. It’s a good idea to use them when they’re newly purchased, so they’re soft and tender after cooking. I make these Gambas the same day I come from the market. The only prep work needed is peeling the shrimps, and removing the head and tail, if you purchased them with the shell. Otherwise, if you bought fresh shrimps that have already been peeled at the store, then you go straight to cooking them, which only takes minutes.
Consider the type of shrimps available:
- White Shrimps – are sweet-flavored. They are a good choice for Gambas and absorb the garlic flavors well.
- Tiger Shrimp – are larger and have a nearly lobster-flavor. These are also meatier.
- Pink Shrimp – are tender, and slightly sweet.
- Wild versus Farm-raised Shrimp – the wild shrimps have a stronger, more seafood-like flavor. But sustainably farm-raised shrimps are likewise a good option. It’s your preference and availability.
How to choose Shrimps:
- Look for freshness always. Shrimps should have a mild, sea scent.
- Check the appearance. Shells should be shiny and translucent. There should be no black spots. The flesh should be firm.
The amount of garlic used is important to flavor the shrimps. I use at least a head of garlic, which is about 8 to 10 cloves, more or less. Feel free to add more if you love garlic.
Make sure the extra virgin olive oil is premium quality or it affects the final flavor of the gambas.
Have the tomato sauce and paste ready just before adding the shrimps to the skillet. This whole dish cooks quickly, so you want your ingredients in place.
A Recipe I Will Cook Again and Again
Whether it’s the holidays, or if guests are coming, or even if it’s for a family meal any day, I will make these Shrimp Gambas again and again. The ingredients are readily available anytime in most large supermarkets, so you can cook this all year round. The flavors of garlic, succulent shrimps, and sweet tomato sauces blend together quickly when cooking stovetop. And best of all, it’s just so simple and easy.
- Mixing bowls
- Large Non-stick Skillet – 12 to 14 inches diameter
- 1 pound large shrimps, peeled, deveined, heads and tails removed
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 whole head garlic, about 8 to 10 cloves, peeled and mashed
- 2 Tablespoons white wine
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 of a whole red bell pepper, chopped, for garnish; seeded, white membrane removed
To prepare shrimps:
- Wash the peeled shrimps in water. Drain liquid and shake off any excess water.In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the lemon juice all over the shrimps. Let the shrimps marinate for 20 minutes (not longer than that or they might 'cook' in the lemon juice). After 20 minutes, drain the liquid.Set shrimps aside.
To cook the Shrimp Gambas:
- In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, add the extra virgin olive oil.When oil is hot enough in about 2 minutes, add the garlic. Stir the garlic around to cook evenly, for about 1 minute. Do not burn the garlic or it will affect the final flavor of the dish.Add the shrimps. The shrimps will cook and turn from grey to pink in about 5 minutes.Pour the white wine, tomato sauce and paste. Add the teaspoon of sriracha sauce. Blend ingredients well so that the liquids coat the shrimps. Continue cooking for 2 to 3 minutes more till shrimps are completely done.Season with salt and pepper.Garnish with chopped bell peppers. Serve warm.
- To keep leftovers, store in covered containers in the refrigerator for about 5 days. Shrimps tend to get rubbery longer than that. You can freeze these Shrimp Gambas in an airtight plastic container. They can keep for 3 weeks in the freezer. Thaw and reheat when you're ready to eat again.Please note that the longer you keep these Shrimp Gambas leftovers, the spicier it gets.
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