Why you’ll love them
Many years ago, my love of garlic prawns was ignited after eating a little cast iron pot full of them at a restaurant called The Witches Cauldron. They were amazing and I’ve wanted to create my own for so long.
Enter my sizzling garlic prawns. Not just sizzling; these are Spanish garlic prawns loaded with garlic, of course but some paprika (or even better, pimenton), chilli flakes and a good squeeze of lemon make these something really special.
- They’re cooked in just one pan!
- All done under the overhead grill / broiler.
- So incredibly easy.
- Loaded with punchy flavour!
- You can even prep them ahead of time.
What are gambas al ajillo
In Spain, these sizzling garlic prawns are known as gambas al ajillo (gambas = prawns and ajillo = garlic) and it’s big, juicy prawns bathed in the most amazing olive oil and garlic sauce. A little paprika or pimenton is added for earthy flavour and salt intensifies the flavour of everything. Sherry is often added or lemon for a tangier lift. It all gets a toss together in a frying pan and is cooked until those plump prawns are tender and just cooked through.
This Spanish tapas dish is not only bursting with bold, punchy flavours, it’s served up sizzling hot and, yes, there’s a lot of oil. That’s not just what it’s cooked in; it’s a part of the dish. Scoop up all that oil and flavour with the prawns then get whatever is left with some chunks of crusty bread. It’s luxurious and incredibly irresistible.
On top of that, Spanish garlic prawns or gambas al ajillo is a tapas bar classic that is ridiculously easy to make. You can cook them on the stove top over high-medium heat but I love my even easier method of cooking them under a broiler / overhead grill. These sizzling prawns are often served in an earthenware dish or even cooked in a flameproof terracotta dish.
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Ingredients for garlic prawns
Jump to the recipe for full ingredients and instructions.
- Prawns / shrimp: Top of the list is prawns. I urge you to get prawns with the shell on and peel them yourself; the difference in texture and even flavour, once they’re cooked, is incredible. I love to get nice big prawns but smaller ones will work (you will need to adjust the cooking time though).
- Olive oil: Use a good extra-virgin olive oil for the best flavour.
- Fresh garlic: You must use fresh garlic cloves. You can finely chop them by hand or just push them through a garlic mincer (the pieces will still be big enough to see and scoop up with your prawns and bread).
- Spices: There is a combination of 3 dried spices in these garlic prawns; sea salt flakes, dried chilli flakes (aka red pepper flakes) and sweet paprika. If you want your prawns to be truly Spanish prawns, swap the paprika for pimenton.
- Fresh parsley: LOADS of fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, adds amazing freshness to this dish.
- Butter: I like to use salted butter but unsalted butter will work too.
- Lemon: The sizzling garlic prawns are served with a squeeze of lemon juice and extra wedges of lemon on the side. It adds freshness and a great tang that lifts the rich flavours.
Dont forget the bread! A sizzling pan full of freshly cooked garlic prawns needs bread for mopping up all that amazing buttery garlic sauce. I love a good chewy ciabatta or sourdough.
How to cook garlic prawns (step by step)
You are going to love just how simple this garlic prawns recipe. It’s all created in just one pan and under the broiler / overhead grill.
You’re going to want an oven-safe baking dish or large frying pan here. I use my 12 inch cast iron skillet and it does a perfect job.
Jump to the recipe for full ingredients and instructions.
- Prep the prawns: First of all, you want to peel the prawns. You can leave the tail on or take them off – it’s totally up to you. Don’t forget to remove the digestive tract too – sounds gross but it really isn’t difficult. Just use a small sharp knife to slice a line down the back, then pull the little string of dirt out. That’s it.
- First cook: The first part of the cooking process is to mix the prepared prawns with oil, garlic, salt, chilli and paprika. Give it a really good mix and place under your broiler / overhead grill about 5-6 inches away from the elements if possible. If yours is closer or further and you can’t move it, just keep an eye on them and adjust your cooking time to suit.
- Second cook: It ain’t a buttery garlic sauce without butter, so flip those prawns over and add the butter. Put it back under the broiler / grill for another few minutes until the prawns are opaque and cooked through.
- Add the freshness: Stir through loads of parsley and a good squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Add some more wedges of lemon to the side and some crusty bread and serve!
Tips and tricks
- The type of prawns / shrimp matters! I can’t stress enough that you use shell-on prawns. The texture between those and those that you buy with the shell already removed are worlds apart. Also, sizzling Spanish garlic prawns are usually made using large prawns. I Iike to aim for 5-6 per person – don’t skimp; this recipe is a real treat.
- Variations: Add a glug of sherry in the first cook and leave out the lemon. You can also add some pitted olives either at the start so they get toasty and hot or right at the end.
- Don’t forget the bread: This impressive starter is just ripe for adding plenty of crusty bread or baguette on the side. It’s perfect for sopping up all that oil.
- Make some garlic prawn pasta: Yeah bread is great but imaging these juicy, flavourful prawns and all that sauce stirred through some al dente pasta. Voila! You have the most amazing garlic prawn pasta.
Prawns and garlic obviously but also paprika, salt, chilli flakes, oil, butter, parsley and lemon.
The flavour of garlic prawns works well with a lot of sides. It’s best just with some crusty bread but rice or pasta are also great if you want to turn it from tapas into a substantial meal. You can add some sauteed spinach for some veg. If you want another dish with some Spanish flare, serve them alongside patatas bravas!
Yes. While there are different species of shrimps and prawns, the basic shellfish itself is the same thing.
Yes! They are an excellent source of complete protein and lower in calories than chicken or beef.
These sizzling garlic prawns are definitely best served fresh but they do reheat quite well too. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
Did you try this easy garlic prawns recipe?
Leaving a rating and comment below the recipe is so helpful!
- 750 g shell-on raw prawns (20-30 large prawns)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (60ml)
- 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon sea salt flakes
- ½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes (red pepper flakes), optional
- ½ teaspoon sweet paprika (or spanish pimenton)
- 60 g salted butter, cubed (¼ cup / 2oz)
- ¼ cup not packed, chopped fresh parsley
- lemon wedges to serve
- crusty bread to serve
For best results, always weigh ingredients where a weight is provided
- Baking dish or 12 inch cast iron skillet
- Peel the prawns, leaving the tail intact if you want. With a sharp paring knife, carefully cut a thin slit down the back of each one and remove the digestive tract. Pat the prawns dry with paper towel.
- Preheat the broiler / oven-overhead-grill to high with an oven rack set about 5-6 inches below.
- In a large oven safe cold frying pan, baking dish or cast iron skillet, combine the prawns, oil, garlic, sea salt flakes, chilli flakes and paprika. Mix well.
- Place the dish under the fully heated broiler/ overhead grill for 4 minutes.
- Use tongs to turn the prawns and add the cubes of butter. Grill/broil for a further 2-5 minutes or until opaque. The cooking time will depend on the size of the prawns and your cooking vessel. I find a cast iron pan cooks them much quicker than a ceramic baking dish. Both options work fine, it’s just a difference in timing.
- Stir in parsley and serve with wedges of lemon and crusty bread.
- Please take a moment to leave a comment & rating. It's appreciated and so helpful.
- Tablespoons: I use a standard Australian 20ml tablespoon (equal to 4 teaspoons). Check yours before measuring.
- Which prawns? You’ll always get the best texture from prawns that have the shell still intact or those that have not been frozen. If they are frozen, definitely choose the ones with the shells on and peel them yourself. I know this can seem like extra work but it doesn’t take too long for 20-30 prawns and the texture really is miles apart. Frozen without their shells, prawns will tend to have a crisp or almost crunchy texture after cooking. Peeling them yourself right before cooking, results in prawns with a meaty texture – much nicer.
- Garlic: You can use a kitchen tool to mince your garlic or just finely chop it on a chopping board using the cross-chopping method. I love using my garlic mincer – the pieces it creates are still big enough to see and to scoop up with your prawns. Do not use garlic powder. You can use sliced garlic if you like bigger pieces.
- Cooking time: The cooking time will depend on a number of factors including the pan or dish you use, how close they are to the grill elements and the size of your prawns.
- Want them spicier? Add a full teaspoon chilli flakes or even more to your taste.
- These garlic prawns really are not complete without some crusty bread like a really great ciabatta or sourdough. It’s perfect for mopping up that buttery, garlic oil and tastes so good.
- Nutrition details are approximate only – scroll below the recipe to find the full nutritional information.
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