12.343 Gambas al Ajillo (with recipe)

Cycle 12 – Item 343

14 (Tue) December 2021

Gambas al Ajillo

3.5

by me

at home

-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-

with the Family

Until now, my approach to gambas al ajillo was simple: sauté garlic + chilies in olive oil, add shrimp + salt + pepper (+ sometimes saffron) (see for example 12.260 Gambas al Ajillo).  Various sources on the internet confirm that this quick and easy approach works fine, even among Spaniards, including chefs at tapas restaurants.

In light of the dish’s increasing popularity, and mediocrity, in Korea these days (see for example 12.277 Gambas al Ajillo), I wanted to improve upon the basics.  Here’s my new recipe.

The key is preparing the garlic in different forms, which combine to maximize the garlic essence of the dish.

RECIPE

(Serves 2-4)

    • 500 grams frozen whole shrimp (about 300 grams shelled)
    • 1 head garlic (or more)
    • 2 tsp smoked paprika powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt (or more)
    • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
    • 12 dried bird’s eye chilies (or more)
    • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 2 tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
TIP: Jumbo shrimp (21-25) work best for this dish, because they cook quicker and take on more garlic flavor.

1.  Place the shrimp in a bowl of room temperature water to thaw (about 10 min, depending on thickness of the shrimp).

TIP: Shrimp are typically frozen within hours of harvest, while they’re still fresh.  In the vast majority of retail settings, especially in a city, away from the coast, so-called “fresh” shrimp are actually those frozen shrimp, set out to thaw, which lose their freshness over time.  Unless you’re buying shrimp on the pier, fresh off the boat, frozen shrimp are generally the safer option.   

2.  Peel shrimp, setting aside the shells, including heads and tails.

TIP: Peeling shrimp is much easier when a bit firm, so take them out of the water before they’re completely thawed.

NOTE: Some recipes call for keeping the tails on, which supposedly is more aesthetically pleasing, but I find the tails to be a nuisance when eating.

NOTE: Some recipes call for deveining the shrimp, but I find that the veins are unnoticeable because the shrimp are so thoroughly cooked and so aggressively spiced.  

3.  Peel and grate 1 clove of garlic (with zester/microplane), peel and slice half of the remaining cloves into discs (about 5-6 cloves) (about 2-3 mm thick), retain skins and crush the other remaining cloves (about 5-6 cloves); set aside separately.  

4.  In a bowl, combine the grated garlic + shrimp + paprika + salt + paprika, and set aside to marinate (at least 20 minutes).

5.  Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the crushed garlic + chilies + shrimp heads/shells, and simmer until the heads/shells are just beginning to brown (about 10 min).

TIP: The skins are rich in garlic fragrance (or so my best friend’s Taiwanese wife insists), so keep them on when making stock or infusion.

6.  Drain the oil, and set aside the heads.

After the infusion, about 4/5 cup of oil remains – look at that color!

7.  Just prior to serving (the dish should be served sizzling hot), pour the oil back into the skillet over medium heat, add the sliced garlic and simmer until just beginning to turn golden (about 5 min).

8.  Add the shrimp to the skillet, cook them on one side (1 min), turn off the heat, flip the shrimp and cook on the other side (1 min).

9.  Transfer to a platter, garnish with parsley, and serve with bread.

TIP: Add more salt here if necessary.

Regrettably, the black serving vessel doesn’t show the vibrant redness of the oil.

10.  Optionally, the shrimp heads can be served on the side, with salt + pepper.

TIP: Shrimp heads are best when warm (unpleasant when cool); if made in advance, pop them in the microwave oven for 30 seconds before serving.

(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)

(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)

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