Upping the Sizzle Factor

The holiday season was ramping up and we were hosting a couple for pre-dinner cocktails. Along with the libations, we wanted to munch on a festive appetizer before heading out for dinner. The day had been filled with a long to-do list which left us precious little time to get extravagant. Russ came to the rescue with a tried-and-true, simple yet elegant tapa, Sizzling Garlic Shrimp, or as the Spaniards would say “Gambas al Ajillo

Russ and house guests Francis and Jane Paixao enjoy the garlicky shrimp.

A miniscule, centuries-old dive tapas bar in Madrid, La Casa del Abuelo, serves sickly sweet jug wine and little else besides their house specialty—garlic shrimp. According to chef/author Anya von Bremzen, they slowly and patiently sizzle them in small earthenware cazuelas while customers watch. They are simmered so gently in olive oil that they come out just heated through rather than fried. Now we’re bringing this classic recipe to the other side of the Atlantic.


It’s best to use an excellent quality olive oil because it is so suffused with garlic that you and your guests will huddle around the cazuela dunking fresh bread in what’s left long after the shrimp is gone. The problem was, our bread was gone too! So we’re saving the remaining oil to use with a future pasta dish.


One of the beauties of this dish is the ability to adjust the spiciness—and knowing our guests had a much lower tolerance than us, we scaled back the hot chile aspect. So instead of incorporating the dried chile, Russ just added a few red pepper flakes to add a hint of heat.

IMG_1454Russ preps the garlic. 

One of Spain’s most popular tapas, this classic shrimp recipe is a total keeper. The shrimp are tender and flavorful, and mopping up the garlicky, herby oil with bread is a must.


  • 1 1/2 pounds shelled and deveined large shrimp, tails intact
  • Coarse salt
 (Kosher or sea)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced garlic
  • 1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 small dried hot red chile, seeded and crumbled
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Crusty bread, for serving


  1. Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and let stand for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a 10- to 11-inch earthenware cazuela or enameled cast-iron skillet, combine the garlic and olive oil and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is very fragrant but not colored, 2 to 
3 minutes.
  3. Add the chile and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 15 to 30 seconds.
  4. Add the shrimp to the skillet and cook over moderately low heat, stirring and turning the shrimp occasionally, until barely pink, about 3 minutes. (A bit longer for larger shrimp.)
  5. Stir in the parsley and a generous pinch of salt and cook for a few seconds longer.
  6. Serve in the skillet, passing crusty bread at the table.


Originally we bought a small baguette, but in hindsite, we should have gotten the large to mop up all of the flavorful oil left behind.

3 thoughts on “Upping the Sizzle Factor

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