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Sailing into the sea of my memories

May 26, 2011

I love sailing into the sea of my memories, waving ashore the thoughts of culinary memories from past travels, welcoming them like children coming home from school. This week, I was in the studio and had the opportunity to recreate a favorite garlic shrimp recipe.

Gambas al Ajillo is a wonderful dish I mastered in La Boqueria, a market located on La Rambla in Barcelona, Spain.  I spent time with a little man named Ponixio who had devoted his life to making austere Spanish foods in his unpretentious booth. La Boqueria, simply stated, is paradise for the senses.  The market boasts a diverse selection of goods: fruit, seafood, meats, cheeses, nuts, vegetables, even bags of snails – and sprinkled throughout the market, are small, yet bustling bar-restaurants. My culinary senses awakened to the smells, sounds and colors of La Boqueria as I drifted down the small market lanes.   I spied a multitude of different types of mushrooms in one stall and a little shop that offered 25 different types of olives! Just ask, and they will let you try.  With overwhelming excitement, similar to an artist visiting the Louvre for the very first time, feelings of exhilaration ran down my spine as the explosion of colors lined the market luring me in to experience each stall one at a time.

With this shrimp recipe, you can experience the world feel of Barcelona without leaving your kitchen.  What I really love about this simple dish is the intense garlic flavor, coupled with its mass crowd appeal.  When it comes to shrimp, I actually prefer to cook them with their shells on, which helps protect the shrimp.  While they simmer in the pan, their shells infuse the oil with a taste of the ocean, perfecting a delightful savory shellfish flavor. Layering upon piquant flavors is the sensory experience of eating with your fingers, peeling back the shells, and letting the taste buds unlock the aroma and textures of the dish.

If you have the opportunity to recreate this recipe in your own home, be sure to close your eyes with the first bite and let all five senses take over just like Ponoxio taught me in Barcelona years ago.  Vamos a comer!

Garlic Shrimp Tapa Recipe – Gambas al Ajillo

lb shrimp, 25 count to a pound
4 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tsp sweet Spanish paprika
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
3 tsp chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon for juice
1 Baguette


In a sauté pan or heavy frying pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for about one minute or until they begin to brown. Be careful not to burn the garlic!

Raise the heat to high and add the shrimp, lemon juice and paprika. Stir well, then sauté, stirring briskly until the shrimp turn pink and curl – about 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and transfer shrimp with oil and sauce to a warm plate or serve right from the pan. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with fresh warm crusty bread.
Serves 4

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