10 Aug2007


I love Gambas Al Ajillo. Ever since I was legally able to drink beer, and even before that (don’t you just love those accommodating waiters when you are in high school?), this was the absolute perfect tapas or pulutan for me, though I could rarely afford it unless several of us split an order. I wasn’t really into the chicharon bituka phase and I considered chicharon kind of like a snacking equivalent, but “gambas” and beer were just superb. And even if I didn’t have a beer, gambas were perfect with rice as an actual lunch or dinner meal! I saw on 80breakfasts that Joey just did a post on Gambas, and we probably cooked the dish on the exact same weekend, but here is my version as well…not much different, so I will just add some tips on how to make a particularly noteworthy version for your next party or private indulgence…

First, let me say there are a whole lot of BAD versions of gambas out there, often overcooked, dried out mini-shrimps swimming in vegetable fat with minimal spices. Sometimes they are dripping in tomato sauce, yet other times the garlic is burned beyond recognition. I realize different strokes for different folks, but I would describe the ideal gambas as plump and juicy medium sized shrimp (not prawns), in olive oil with lots of garlic at the golden but not burnt stage, with chilli peppers to taste and sufficient salt to set off the sweet meat of the shrimp. It must be served hot. Here is how I did it the last time I made it…


At the Nasugbu market, I spied superb looking medium sized suahe or white shrimp from a suki. they were extremely fresh and I bought a kilo. Back home, I didn’t manage to use them on the same day so off to the freezer they went, frozen whole and with skins and heads on. Therefor, this recipe is ALREADY starting at a disadvantage it would seem against cooking nearly live shrimp. Back in Manila, we decided to cook the Gambas Al Ajillo, so we defrosted the shrimp, peeled them, put them in a bowl submerged in water and added several tablespoons of sea salt and brined them in the fridge for about 60-80 minutes. Next, drain the shrimp and dry them on paper towels and set aside. In a large skillet, heat up several tablespoons of olive oil and add several tablespoons of chopped garlic to taste (I used about 3 tablespoons for one kilo of shrimp), I also added some chopped siling mahaba (though dried chilli flakes is probably more authentic), and sauteed for a minute or so, several teaspoons of good sweet spanish paprika, then added the shrimp and sauteed until just cooked, DO NOT OVERCOOK THEM. Add salt if necessary, though I added very little as the shrimp were a bit salty from the brine solution. Add chopped flat leaf or Italian parsley seconds before you take these off the heat. These tasted superb. The shrimp were so juicy they “popped” in your mouth and the flavor of olive oil, garlic, mild chilli and paprika were just perfect. The brining makes the shrimp as juicy as possible. This served six people, but frankly, it could have served only two if you decided to eat it with a nice mound of hot rice. Yum. Excellent dish. And so easy to do, even “non-cooks” can pull this off to perfection! And guys, if you are on a date and want her to think you CAN cook, do this with some drinks at your place before you go out to dinner at a nice restaurant, then again, it could be a perfect midnight snack…



  1. Maria Clara says:

    Classic tapas food served in glazed earthenware pot like our bibingkahan. Yes, I have seen a version where the shrimps were drowning in a pool of tomato sauce. After a couple of glasses of wine or bottles of beer anything spicy tasted good! This dish will definitely chase away the vampires. If on a date or going on a date with this dish do not forget your pack of chewing gum or minted candies otherwise the romantic moment with turn to a disaster.

    Aug 10, 2007 | 12:25 pm


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  3. tulipfleurs says:

    That’s it MarketMan . . . My familia and I will be moving in to your house so that we can enjoy all the fine food. That way I won’t be drooling anymore! Ha! Ha! Gosh! Seriously, those shrimps look sooooo delicious! :-) Since I’ve started viewing your site, I must have gained 15 lbs! :-) Take care . . .

    Aug 10, 2007 | 1:08 pm

  4. joey says:

    Oooh! I’m going to try brining my shrimp next time! I agree…good olive oil and don’t overcook the shrimp :) Actually, “don’t overcook the shrimp” is probably the most important part of the recipe, haha! C likes to say “It still has to be crunchy”…yup, that’s the “pop” :)

    Aug 10, 2007 | 1:13 pm

  5. mina says:

    sounds yummy ! looks yummy ! i’m gonna try to make gambas this weekend.. and maybe add a tsp of lemon juice too?

    Aug 10, 2007 | 1:17 pm

  6. Marketman says:

    mina, try it without lemon juice first, and if you like, you can add a spritz afterwards to see the difference… joey, brining shrimp gives it this plump and juicy quality that many folks can’t place if you don’t tell them…make this your secret… :) tulipfleurs, imagine how many pounds I have put on!!! MC, haha, you BOTH have to eat all the garlic so you can’t tell the difference!

    Aug 10, 2007 | 1:37 pm

  7. tulip says:

    I saw this from Joey’s blog days ago and I’ve been craving for it since then. Thank God it’s friday..tomorrow is the usual lunch with family, and shrimp is included in the menu.I love Gambas al Ajillo but I rarely eat it outside our home ’cause just like you said others tend to overcook it. I’ll surely have this tomorrow.
    Oh, and your photos are fantastic, I literally touched my screen at the sight of it!

    Aug 10, 2007 | 2:30 pm

  8. Kongkong622 says:

    The best Gambas, for me, is at Casa Armas. Even the oil is so delicious I can have it with rice. You are so right about that “popping” in your mouth experience. I’ve had some really bad Gambas where the shrimp was tough. I’m suddenly craving for this.

    Aug 10, 2007 | 3:33 pm

  9. Mila says:

    And the best part is after eating the shrimp, all that juicy garlicky gravy is soaked up in the rice or good bread for a final encore.

    Aug 10, 2007 | 4:26 pm

  10. Monchet says:

    True, there are lots of versions of gambas, but the one I like best is at Dulcinea (Rockwell). Just pure olive oil, garlic and chilli peppers–no tomato sauce, nothing else. And it’s perfect with the slightly-toasted garlic bread.

    Aug 10, 2007 | 6:26 pm

  11. zena says:

    I have to commend you, MM, on your pictures. My keyboard is in danger coz of all the drooling going on! Maybe it’s the power of suggestion but since you mentioned that class for taking photos of food, i think that you’re already yummy pictures are even yummier and literally more mouth-watering. Kudos! P.S. I LOVE all your shrimp/prawn posts. Thanks!

    Aug 10, 2007 | 8:52 pm

  12. Cookie says:

    You read my mind MM! I bought shrimp last night from the grocery, they had huge freshwater shrimp for $5.99/lb. The fish monger said that freshwater shrimps taste differently – more like crawfish. I thought it would be perfect for a quick stir fry in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Yum yum!!

    Aug 10, 2007 | 8:55 pm

  13. zena says:

    I’ve a question, MM. I’m kinda new to this brining thing. Is there anything you can’t brine?

    Aug 10, 2007 | 9:01 pm

  14. Jacob's Mom says:

    Mmmmm….one of my favorites! You can guess what I’ll be making tonight! Lovely pictures, MM.

    Aug 10, 2007 | 9:32 pm

  15. Patricia says:

    Gambas happens to be my favorite. I don’t think I’ve found “authentic” gambas here. Well, not as close as to the favorite Spanish haunts and the old Pep’s in Manila. Thank you for sharing your recipe. Can you suggest how much garlic I should use, since the garlic available isn’t as tasty as the ones from the Philippines? I believe the variety we have are mostly from Taiwan. Thanks again!

    Aug 10, 2007 | 11:11 pm

  16. aggy says:

    yummy! i’ve made some with a sprinkling of freshly chopped cilantro…gives it a different but still great flavor

    Aug 11, 2007 | 4:43 am

  17. brenda says:

    Definitely one of my favorites. Now, I’m having second thoughts. I’ve made up my mind for lechon kawali this Sunday and now I’m debating whether to have gambas or the former. Maybe both? Why not! Lechon kawali for lunch and gambas for pulutan with ice cold beer.

    Lovely picture, MM. Great job!

    Aug 11, 2007 | 5:18 am

  18. Apicio says:

    Probably excludes those humonstrous grandfather tiger prawns but gambas is actually prawns in Spanish. On the other hand, shrimp is also used as a deprecatory adjective for small and stunted. But I wholeheartedly agree about the medium-sized sweet fleshed shrimps that are ideal mouthfuls for picking with the fingers on the tail shell left intact (well you can use sturdy cocktail picks if you really want to be spiffy). Btw, scallops also lend themselves really well to this garlicky treatment.

    Invariably started with this which they served sizzling at the Spanish Pavillion in the Times Square area before I go on to their passable paella which btw included surprise surprise chorizo slices. Started at the 1939 NY World’s Fair and closed six or seven years ago. I knew they were on their last leg when they filled in the gratuity space for me on my final visit.

    Aug 11, 2007 | 7:48 am

  19. Marketman says:

    Apicio, shrimp apparently comes from the Indo-European word skerbh, according to Harold McGee, which means to “turn, bend or shrink, perhaps reflecting the curled nature of these creatures,” not to mention the association with diminutive size… Yes, shrimp and prawn is used interchangeably to describe one of 300+ species of shrimp + relatives around the world… the most commonly available shellfish for human consumption, again according to McGee. Prawn first appears in literature in medieval times, and its origins are unknown. In the U.S., prawn usually refers to the bigger varieties of shrimp. My father used to have prawn farms as a hobby when I was much younger so I always associate prawns with black tiger or other humongous mommas. Personally, I always think of prawns as having a thicker shell/skin than shrimp, but that may be just like comparing the leather on my rear to the smoothness of a newly borns bum… heehee. My dad was a weekend prawn farmer so he probably lost more money than not showing off his brilliant looking prawns only to find out that as soon as a crab got into each prawn pond, he was going to lose his shirt… so what did we do? We ate a LOT of the MOST incredible crabs that had themselves feasted on young prawn fry and naive teenagers as well… The darn crabs probably ended up costing over 10x the price you could buy them at in the local markets… brenda, do both gambas and lechon kawali, you only live once and if until the age of 75, you only have 80,000 meals or so to enjoy! Patricia, the more garlic the merrier is what I say, I don’t think you can really overdo it too much…just don’t overcook the garlic…burnt garlic is the pits. zena, I tend to brine poultry (chickens, turkeys), shrimp and prawns, pork (a whole roast or loin) for the most part. Scientifically the explanation is that it somehow forces liquid back into the item being brined (counter-intuitive since the water is salty) and it does seem to work.

    Aug 12, 2007 | 9:40 am

  20. dhayL says:

    MM, would you recommend brinning the shrimps even if you’re not making this dish? If you were to grill them, do you have to brined them first, would it be more tasty? I have to try this dish next time, it’s almost the same way i make hilabos na hipon, with lots of garlic, butter and good olive oil, and i add dried parsley at the end too, but i understand that for gambas, you used med-size instead. If sea salt is not available, can i use coarse salt? thanks in advance.

    Aug 13, 2007 | 4:03 am

  21. Marketman says:

    dhayL, yes, shrimp will benefit from brining before a barbecue, which does sometimes tend to dry them out a bit… but brining may help to keep the meat more succulent. When you do this, leave 2 or 3 shrimp WITHOUT brining and taste the difference, if it is worth the effort to brine, you will notice the difference and will continue to do it. If there isn’t a noticeable difference, don’t bother in future. Yes, coarse sea salt or kosher salt will work for this. Just do not use iodized salt as it has a chemically flavor…

    Aug 13, 2007 | 6:35 am

  22. jeff says:

    can i have some and put in on top of freshly cooked spaghetti:)

    Aug 13, 2007 | 8:05 pm

  23. Vennis Jean says:

    I made this today!!!Yipee MM…my Dad who is from surigao del sur received 3kilos of lukon(giant shrimps),3kilos large shrimps and 5kilos of big crabs from my uncles’ harvest sent via Bachelor express(the bus company that travels from tandag to davao)in a styro box..and you can imagine how happy I am to try this (and how lucky we are to get these seafood produce fresh and free!!!)…I had to run to the mall grocery to buy sweet spanish paprika though…my dad who cooks rather well said he loves it and it even won my mom’s approval…Thanx a million MM for this recipe…

    Aug 15, 2007 | 10:55 am

  24. dhayL says:

    MM, thank you for the information, i do appreciate!!! I’ll be making grilled shrimps this weekend, and i’ll brined them first and i’ll let you know if there are any difference! Oh yeah, i’ll be making your take on corn on a cob as well! I’m so excited! It’s my daughter’s 5th bday! thanks again!

    Aug 16, 2007 | 8:03 am

  25. chick says:

    try the gambas at Manila Polo Club :)

    Aug 16, 2007 | 11:18 am


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