gambas pil pil recipe
GAMBAS PIL PIL - Garlic and Chilli Prawns Recipe

Gambas pil pil are the essence of the south of Spain. This simple recipe for prawns fried in garlic and chilli olive oil is one of the tastiest seafood recipes ever and we would love to share it with you.


Gambas Pil Pil are one of the most popular tapas ever. They have established themselves on restaurant menus across the whole of Spain, although Málaga has a right to their origins. Freshly peeled prawns are heated in a deep layer of bubbling olive oil flavoured with garlic, hot chillies and possibly parsley.

gambas pil pil


Simply none. Gambas Pil Pil is actually the wrong name for the recipe, but it has become so popular that everyone has decided against renaming it. Pil Pil refers to the emulsion sauce best known for dried cod or hake, made by blending proteins from fish meat with garlic flavoured olive oil. 

When talking about Gambas Pil Pil we are using the same garlic oil, but there is no connection with shrimp protein, which only briefly heats up in the oil. The correct name is therefore Gambas al Ajillo, but you will hardly find it on the menu.


The base for this recipe is always olive oil, garlic and shrimp. Garlic can be either whole or sliced. When it comes to what chillies to use, it gets a bit more complicated.

There are recipe variants without chillies, although they are very rare. The most commonly used is "dried chilli" that is sautéed briefly in olive oil before adding the prawns. It is sometimes replaced with fresh chilli peppers, whole or sliced. Chilli peppers are often paired with ground paprika, which can be hot or sweet, smoked or unsmoked.

gambas pil pil with parsley

This is a variant with whole garlic cloves, with dried chilli peppers without ground paprika.


Fresh small prawns are the best for this recipe, but also the most difficult to cook right. They go from a crispy to a very chewy texture in just half a minute in hot olive oil. Using larger prawns is a little bit easier. We always recommend using fresh prawns. 


1. Traditionally Gambas Pil Pil are served in a clay bowl. The clay bowl must be relatively small so that the oil layer is deep enough. For every 100g of prawns, the clay bowl should have a maximum diameter of 12 cm. A clay pot is particularly suitable because, unlike a cast iron pan, it retains the heat well. Avoid using thin frying pans.

2. Do not overheat the oil. The ideal temperature is 110-120 C. Our tip - let the oil heat along with the garlic and when the garlic starts to simmer, reduce the flame to a medium heat.

3. Ground paprika is added at the very end. It dissolves immediately in the oil and does not burn that way. If using dried chilli, add it a minute before adding the prawns so it doesn't burn.

4. Don't overcook the prawns. For example, small shrimps (3-4 cm) take less than a minute to cook. If you're using an earthenware pot or cast iron skillet, stir the shrimps into the oil, turn off the flame, and let them to simmer.


spanish garlic and chilli prawns pil pil 


Serves 2

Preparation time: 10 MINS

Cooking time: 10 MINS

Total time: 20 MIN

120 g fresh peeled prawns ( 300 g unpeeled )

2 cloves of garlic

1.5 cm layer of olive oil ( amount depends on pan size )

2 chilli peppers

1 teaspoon of ground paprika

2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley



1. Thinly slice the garlic and chillies ( you can leave in the seeds). Finely chop the parsley.

2. Pour in a layer of olive oil cca. 1.5 cm deep in the cast iron pan / clay bowl. Add garlic and chilli peppers. Set the stove to medium-high and wait until the garlic and chilli peppers are bubbling. Let the garlic and chilli peppers roast until the garlic is light brown.

sizzling gambas pil pil

Once the garlic is roasted, add the prawns.

 3. Add the prawns and salt generously. Add a teaspoon of ground paprika. Stir. Cook for about a minute depending on the size of the prawns. The prawns are ready when they turn white. Turn off the flame and sprinkle with some freshly chopped parsley.


cooked gambas pil pil

On the left - with prawns, on the right - also with ground paprika.

4. Serve immediately ( still bubbling ) in the pan in the center of the table with some fresh crunchy white bread.



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