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Paprika Gambas al Ajillo

July 11, 2013

Paprika Gambas al AjilloPin it!

More than a few of my friends should really start their own cooking blogs.

Not that anyone thinks they have enough time for that (and they’re right; no one does!), but I mean they are totally qualified, especially since the qualifications include: love food; make a lot of it pretty well (or a little of it very well); own a camera.

My point is, I sometimes feel it’s a fluke that I ended up creating a food blog while certain other people haven’t. (Yet?) A fluke that is no doubt related to all of that unstructured time I’ve been busy enjoying as a grad student (whereas other people— “real people,” as I call them— tend to have jobs). I’m sure there’s a relevant PhD comic for this somewhere.

Tapas: Paprika Gambas al AjilloPin it!

Since I started this blog, I’ve gotten so much inspiration and wisdom from various friends who could show me up in the kitchen if they wanted to. I can’t count the number of times I’ve called my younger sister for baking advice. I’ve learned the most, though, not from correspondence but from cooking together with others.

Rosemary, saffron, and paprika for Paprika Gambas al Ajillo

This spring my friend Emilie visited and she shared her sourdough starter tips with Paula, reminded me of the glorious existence of soft-boiled eggs (so much simpler to make than poached eggs!), and brought Magic Sauce into our lives.

Paprika Gambas al Ajillo, inspired by Magic Sauce

Emilie had fallen in love with Heidi Swanson’s magic sauce—a recipe I’d checked out several times on her blog 101 cookbooks, but had never tried making before. The paprika-laced olive oil concoction with lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs is so red and bursting with an almost fruity flavor that when Emilie whipped up a batch on my stove and I dipped some of Paula’s homemade bread into it, I incorrectly assumed it contained tomato paste.

Paprika Gambas al Ajillo - Garlic Shrimp Tapas

The magic sauce was delectable drizzled over some pan-seared halibut (also prepared by Emilie, after we realized we’d each recently made it our mission to cook and eat more fish). It was also amazing sopped up with fresh bread.

Paprika Gambas al Ajillo, inspired by Magic Sauce

It just took the one meal to convert us; that sauce has stuck around. (Minus the bay leaf.)

Ingredients for Paprika Gambas al Ajillo with rosemary and saffron

This paprika garlic shrimp recipe came about from a tapas party we threw back in May. I made sangria and gazpacho soup. Paula baked a ton of baguettes, and we made magic sauce (and aioli) to dip them in. In addition to our mostly vegetarian fare, I also wanted to serve at least one chicken or seafood dish and immediately thought of Gambas al Ajillo (grilled shrimp with garlic), which is just about the easiest Spanish seafood dish there is to make.

Paprika Gambas al Ajillo - Garlic Shrimp Tapas

I put two and two together and traded a super garlicky Gambas al Ajillo for something a little more colorful, herby, and peppery: this magic sauce-inspired paprika version with rosemary.

Ingredients for Paprika Gambas al Ajillo with rosemary and saffron

The bright and smoky shrimp sauce skips the fresh oregano and thyme—in case you don’t always keep as many fresh herbs around your house as Heidi Swanson does—in favor of rosemary along with a touch of cayenne pepper and a pinch of saffron.

Paprika Gambas al Ajillo - Garlic Shrimp TapasPin it!

It takes just minutes to cook, and is my new favorite way to prepare shrimp at home. The shrimp were a hit as finger food appetizers at our tapas party (that’s why I chose tail-on), and each time I’ve made them since, Paula and I have devoured the entire batch ourselves for dinner.

Making Paprika Gambas al Ajillo - Garlic Shrimp Tapas

So the give and take of recipe influence and inspiration goes from food blogs to friends and back again.

Paprika Gambas al Ajillo - Garlic Shrimp TapasPin it!

Print this recipe. (PDF)


Paprika Gambas al Ajillo
(Inspired by Magic Sauce from the blog 101 Cookbooks.)

(Serves 8-10 as an appetizer; serves 2-4 as part of a meal)

~ 12-14 oz. medium shrimp (preferably tail-on)
~ 3 Tbsp. olive oil
~ 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. paprika
~ 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, diced
~ several strands of saffron, diced
~ pinch of cayenne
~ pinch of sea salt
~ 1-2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (to taste)

Ingredients for Paprika Gambas al Ajillo with rosemary and saffronRosemary and saffron

How to make it:

1. Defrost shrimp if necessary, and pat completely dry with kitchen towels. Combine the garlic, paprika, rosemary, saffron, cayenne, and sea salt in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Heat olive oil over medium-high in a large skillet. Once the oil is warm, add the garlic, paprika, rosemary, saffron, cayenne, and sea salt. Mix well and cook for 30 seconds, then add the shrimp.

Making Paprika Gambas al Ajillo - Garlic Shrimp TapasMaking Paprika Gambas al Ajillo - Garlic Shrimp Tapas

3. Stir to coat shrimp in the seasonings, then cook shrimp for 2 minutes on each side (or, for pre-cooked shrimp, about a minute total, or to warm through). Be careful not to overcook the shrimp.

4. Once cooked, add the fresh lemon juice, then transfer to a serving dish—along with all remaining sauce—and serve immediately with bread to dip in the extra sauce.

Print this recipe! (PDF)

Paprika Gambas al Ajillo - Garlic Shrimp Tapas

Paprika Gambas al Ajillo - Garlic Shrimp Tapas with rosemaryPin it!

Related recipe posts:

IMG_0474-5 IMG_8193 IMG_8041-5 IMG_9907-5
Pan Catalán (Pan con Tomate) Gazpacho Soup Tapas Party: Sangria and Papas Bravas Pain à l’Ancienne Baguettes
43 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2013 9:04 am

    Awesome! I remember having gambas al ajillo when I was a kid. I’ll have to try this.

    • July 11, 2013 9:15 am

      You were a lucky kid! I don’t think I tried this kind of stand-alone shrimp appetizer until I studied abroad in Barcelona my junior year of college. Hope it brings back good memories! :)

      • July 11, 2013 9:22 am

        We lived in tiny Waverly, Iowa at the time and I was just 5. My parents could speak Spanish and befriended a young Spaniard that was a coworker with my dad. He was so grateful to have someone to talk to that he had us over for dinner and the gambas was what he served.

        I’ve dreamed of that dish ever since, but never knew how it was spelled until seeing your post!

      • July 11, 2013 2:16 pm

        Such a nice story! And I’m impressed you remember a specific meal from when you were 5– it must have left quite the impression. :)

  2. July 11, 2013 9:11 am

    It looks really good,although I almost forgot the taste of the shellfish(shellfish allergy)..! I’m going to make it for my hubby,though :D He’s gonna love it!

    • July 11, 2013 9:16 am

      Oh no, shellfish allergies are sad! (But then again there are definitely worse things to be allergic to…) It’s really nice of you to still make it for your husband, though!

      • July 11, 2013 9:31 am

        I wanna make him shellfish and he doesn’t wanna eat them,even when we’re eating in a restaurant,because of my allergy..!That’s what we call LOVE and SUPPORT! ;)

      • July 11, 2013 2:16 pm

        Wow, definitely! :)

  3. July 11, 2013 9:17 am

    Yum!! I’m really, really, hungry now!

  4. July 11, 2013 9:25 am

    Looks TOO good!

  5. July 11, 2013 9:33 am

    First off, let me say that this sauce really does look magical! I love the olive oil base with paprika and saffron- I totally would have thought that it had tomato too! Also, I totally know what you mean about being a cooking/baking “expert”. I feel like I’m still learning the ropes as I bake and blog. I’m always looking up tips and asking for advice!

    • July 11, 2013 2:20 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Heather. I know; it’s the same way for me. It’s not like I feel like a fraud exactly, since I really do love cooking and I cook a lot; it’s just that sometimes I think it’s funny that I’m the one with the food blog, since tons of other people also love cooking and cook a lot. (Maybe they don’t like writing as much as I do, though, in addition to not having as much time, haha.)

      And yes, the sauce really is magical! Especially the full-on original version of it from 101 Cookbooks, which is the BEST as a dip for fresh bread (though I prefer to leave out the bay leaf). I’m not sure how much flavor the saffron really added, but the paprika and cayenne really perked up the shrimp compared to typical gambas al ajillo.

  6. July 11, 2013 10:30 am

    This looks like all kinds of deliciousness! I have got to try this.. thank you!

  7. July 11, 2013 10:44 am

    Sounds delicious and I love the wonderful color the paprika gives to the dish.

    • July 27, 2013 11:28 am

      I know; I love the color, too! And it’s not just color– I really think the paprika (paired with lemon juice) makes it taste a little fruity/tomato-y; it’s an easy way of adding a lot of great flavor to the dish, that doesn’t totally take over from the flavors of garlic and olive oil.

  8. July 11, 2013 10:53 am

    A beautiful dish. I know a few people as well that I would love to see blog. :)

  9. July 11, 2013 12:22 pm

    allison this is wonderful!!!!

  10. July 11, 2013 1:40 pm

    Paprika looks super delicious in flavouring this :D


  11. empressava permalink
    July 11, 2013 3:25 pm

    This look delicious, cant wait to try it.

  12. July 11, 2013 4:05 pm

    oooo. this is officially going to be added to my shrimp canape sampler i make for guests sometimes. looks like toast has a new best friend.

    thanks for the awsome recipe, allison. now i just need to get my hands on some paprika that doesn’t cost me my first born child…

    • July 27, 2013 11:33 am

      Oh man, does paprika cost a lot in Japan? I wouldn’t be surprised… I really never used to use it that often, so I probably never bought it there (but I do remember spending a small fortune on cumin, and once going all the way to Fukuoka just to buy black mustard seeds).

      I hope your dinner guests enjoy this addition to your shrimp canape sampler! I’d love to hear how it goes over. Your comment made me think I should have titled this whole post: “Looks like toast has a new best friend.”

  13. July 11, 2013 7:15 pm

    Yum, these sound gorgeous. Good holiday food.

    • July 27, 2013 11:34 am

      Definitely! Good finger food for holiday parties, or summery parties, where you don’t want to spend too much time cooking (or turn the oven on!).

  14. July 11, 2013 7:22 pm

    Superb! I love gambas al ajillo!

  15. July 11, 2013 8:51 pm

    This sounds delicious, Allison! Love the combination you got going here. I’d be a happy camper with some pasta or crusty bread here –yum! Hope you are doing well!

    • July 27, 2013 11:35 am

      Thanks! I know, it’s great with crusty bread… I haven’t tried putting these over pasta yet, but that’s a wonderful idea!! (Which I am now going to be having obsessive thoughts about until I make it happen, haha.) Yum.

  16. July 12, 2013 12:00 pm

    i spent only a week in barcelona few winters ago and i recall their gambas al ajillo. it’s a safe but oh so good dish to have, sharing with friends around a table, learning from each other. your party sounds wonderful!

    • July 27, 2013 11:37 am

      Thanks, Lan! I agree; gambas al ajillo is an oh-so-good dish. And along with similarly-prepared squid dishes, it was often one of my go-to non-vegetarian tapas to order in Barcelona, since I don’t eat pork or beef.

  17. Elizabeth @ permalink
    July 13, 2013 11:36 pm

    These sound delicious! I’m such a sucker for shrimp dishes. Somehow they seem lighter but still totally filling–what magical creatures shrimp are. I’ve seen Heidi’s magic sauce before but have never had all of the ingredients–but I have all the stuff for your version! Score!

    • July 27, 2013 11:39 am

      Nice! That’s what I was going for– the magic Heidi Swanson flavors without the constant running to the store to get fresh herbs (since some of us were born with the opposite of green thumbs…). I am a total sucker for shrimp dishes, too; I order them pretty often in restaurants even though I should know they are among the easier dishes to just make myself at home (more economically), but they are so good! (And lighter but still filling, like you said.)

  18. July 14, 2013 5:20 pm

    The community aspect of food comes a close second to the deliciousness of food for me . . . cooking, eating, sharing with others over a meal, learning in the kitchen–can’t be beat! Love that you share your love of cooking with friends and can all combine to make something that tasty!

    • July 27, 2013 11:44 am

      I absolutely agree! I love the social aspect of a good meal (or a good cooking session or tapas/drinks gathering with friends). It definitely changes my experience of the food if not the flavor. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)

  19. July 16, 2013 6:50 pm


  20. Create Grace permalink
    July 23, 2013 6:59 am

    I am wondering how much time I will have to cook and work on my food blog once I go back to work. (I’m a teacher). I agree with you.. I have so many friends who are excellent cooks, but who has time?

    • July 27, 2013 11:54 am

      I know, it really does take a TON of time to create a food blog (especially when you are something of a perfectionist like I am…). But when it comes time to re-shuffle your priorities—like for a job as time-consuming as teaching!—then it helps to give up the perfectionism as much as possible, and take the pressure off of yourself to not post as often.

      If it’s something you love doing, I hope you can still find time to squeeze it in there. Cutting down from twice a week to once a week has helped me, but if I ever really found that I wasn’t getting anything done on the dissertation, then I’d have to cut back even more. I think I’d still choose some regular interval for a posting schedule, though, to make sure I was still prioritizing my beloved hobby at least a little bit.

      (Meanwhile, I’ve also been bugging some of my friends who are excellent cooks to consider guest posting on my blog! That’d be a win-win as far as I’m concerned. :)

  21. walgenbe permalink
    August 9, 2013 1:13 pm

    Aww, I just read this again because I’m making shrimp tonight and thought of your recipe. This is probably the best internet shout out I’ve ever gotten! That magic sauce was awesome, and I bet it will taste even better on shrimp! It’s summery here, so I’m thinking of oregano still in place of rosemary. Can’t wait to eat these tasty little crustaceans.

    • August 10, 2013 10:22 am

      I’m glad I could give you your best internet shout-out (so far)! I hope your pseudo-magic sauce shrimp were just as good with oregano as with rosemary.

      By the way, every time I try to nab a single sprig of rosemary from one of the thousands of landscaping-rosemary bushes around Santa Barbara I wonder how you could have done it so successfully that one time when you were here; the pines/needles always just come off in my hand with the central twig still attached to the plant—I’d need scissors!


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