Whether you are looking for an easy tapas dish, a low-carb appetizer, or simply love cooking with juicy prawns, this Gambas Pil Pil recipe is for you! Popular in Spanish tapas bars and all over the world, this Andalucian favourite recipe is one of those tapas recipes that everyone can make in their own kitchen in under 10 minutes! Serve it with a crusty piece of bread to mop up that spicy chilli garlic oil!
- Short History: What Is Prawn Pil Pil?
- Ingredients and Substitutes
- What Prawns To Use For Gambas Pil Pil?
- How To Clean Prawns?
- Tips on How To Cook Prawns in Pil Pil
- Recipe FAQs
- Serving Suggestions
- What To Serve With Garlic Prawns?
- Storage & Reheating
- Other Delicious Prawn Recipes
- Recipe Card
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Short History: What Is Prawn Pil Pil?
Prawn Pil Pil recipe is an easy classic Spanish tapa dish, that can be found in any tapas bar around the world! Succulent prawns are cooked on medium-high heat in a large frying pan with oil, lots of garlic and hot peppers, then served in small plates as part of a large spread of dishes. It is a great dish to serve as an appetizer too!
This famous chilli garlic prawn recipe seemingly has a few regions that claim it as their own. Some claim that its roots are in the Basque country (North Spain), while others say it is a quintessentially Andalusian (Southern Spain) dish. These days, this delicious dish is popular not only across Spain, but all over the world, and is becoming part of International cuisine.
What Does Gambas Pil Pil Mean in Spanish?
The Spanish word gambas literally means prawns. The meaning of pil pil is a little more complicated, but in Spanish cuisine (particularly Basque cuisine) it is used to describe garlic and chilli-infused oil. Whilst the actual meaning is unclear, some food historians speculate that the word originated to describe the popping sound of garlic hitting hot olive oil.
Ingredients and Substitutes
You will need 5 main ingredients and a couple of things for garnish to make the most delicious (and possibly one of the most famous) Spanish prawn tapas dish.
- prawns: we used frozen (defrosted) raw jumbo king prawns, but read all about the best prawns to use for prawn pil pil in the section below.
- olive oil: make sure not to use extra virgin oil, as it is not suitable for cooking on high heat.
- garlic: one large fresh garlic clove should be used per portion.
- red chilli peppers: choose chili peppers based on your spice preference. We used deseeded red jalapeno peppers for a milder dish. You may also choose to use dried chilli flakes.
- paprika: this gambas pil pil recipe works well with both sweet Spanish paprika and smoked paprika. We particularly enjoy Santo Domingo Sweet Smoked Paprika.
- parsley: fresh parsley is used as a garnish on top and adds to both the aesthetic appeal and flavour of the dish.
- salt and pepper.
- lemon: a wedge of lemon squeezed over these Spanish prawns is a delicious way to introduce extra flavour, but it is entirely optional.
What Prawns To Use For Gambas Pil Pil?
Let’s get one thing out of the way, the words shrimp and prawn are often used interchangeably (although scientifically they are different crustaceans), but what you are looking for are large succulent prawns/ shrimp, that typically have king or jumbo as a prefix. Larger prawns will be more succulent and won’t overcook as quickly.
You need good quality uncooked prawns for this recipe so that they can infuse with the flavours of garlic and chilli in the cooking process.
Whilst it is always best to use fresh prawns, and deshell and clean them yourself, we understand that it can be a bit overwhelming. Therefore, we highly recommend using either fully prepared fresh prawns or simply thawed frozen raw prawns in this recipe. That’s the option we often take, and we can recommend Jumbo King Prawns from ALDI UK freezer isles.
How To Clean Prawns?
If you do, however, choose to make this prawn pil pil recipe with fresh king prawns in their shells, here are the steps you need to take to prepare them for cooking.
- Place the prawns in a colander and run lots of cold water through them.
- Inspect your prawns and remove any discoloured and unhealthy-looking crustaceans.
- Pull the heads away from the body in one quick and firm movement.
- Slide your index finger under the shell and lift it slightly the flesh gently, moving your finger under the shell sideways. It will detach the shell from the prawn.
- Devein the prawns with the tip of the knife, by pulling the black line (intestinal tract) that runs down the back of the prawn and discard it.
- Pull the tail off gently.
- Rinse the prepared prawns in cold water and pat them dry with a piece of kitchen towel.
You are now ready to cook your Chilli Garlic Prawns!
Tips on How To Cook Prawns in Pil Pil
- Use a frying pan that is just large enough to fit all the prawns in a single layer. This way you will not need to use more oil. You need enough oil to just have the prawns submerged.
- Make sure to use olive oil (not the extra virgin type). Extra virgin oil is not suitable for cooking on high heat and will smoke and produce a bitter taste.
- Heat the oil until hot but not smoky before adding the prawns.
- Pil Pil prawns cook quickly on high heat, so watch the clock.
- Only add garlic, chilli and paprika halfway through cooking to prevent them from burning.
Prepare all your ingredients first, as this recipe moves fast (everything cooks in a matter of minutes). Slice the cloves of garlic, chop the chilli finely, and prepare the garnishes, by cutting a wedge of lemon and finely chopping the parsley.
STEP 1: Pour the olive oil into a frying pan and set it over medium high heat. Once hot (but not smoking), add the prawns to hot oil and cook them for a couple of minutes, without stirring.
STEP 2: Add the garlic, chilli and paprika powder and stir, turning the prawns on the other side as you go, and carry on cooking for a further minute or two.
STEP 3: Using a spoon, take the prawns out of the oil into a serving dish, pour the chilli garlic oil over them and sprinkle the top with a pinch of salt and pepper. Scatter the chopped parsley on top and garnish with a lemon wedge.
Squeeze the lemon over and serve warm with crusty bread!
Prawns and shrimps are two different crustaceans but are often used interchangeably, both in spoken language and as an ingredient in cooking. In the UK, prawns are usually bigger and meatier than shrimp. For this recipe, choose large prawns/shrimp, that have either King or Jumbo as a prefix to their name.
To make a traditional Spanish Prawn Tapas dish, use either sweet paprika or smoked paprika. But if you are looking for something extra, you can always spice things up even further with a pinch of cayenne pepper. We don’t recommend overcomplicating it with other spices, as the delicious oil adds all the flavour you will need!
Yes, some recipes call for wine sauce, but such recipes are typically known as Gambas Al Ajillo.
Gambas Pil Pil is a very popular Spanish Tapas dish, and is often served as a part of a spread, alongside other Spanish classics, like olives, cured meats and cheese and croquetas. All the dishes are typically served in terracotta pots and shared amongst friends and family. So make this recipe part of your Spanish tapas feast!
How To Make Spanish Prawn Tapas Into An Easy Dinner?
Whilst it is unconventional to serve King Prawn Pil Pil as a main dish, you can absolutely make it into a main meal. Serve these Chilli Garlic Prawns:
- Over stir-fried vegetable noodles.
- Over a bowlful of spaghetti.
- Over simple boiled/ steamed rice with a side of green vegetables.
What To Serve With Garlic Prawns?
Spanish prawns have a lot of beautiful chilli and garlic-infused oil all over them, so would be a shame to waste it, right? Slice a freshly baked loaf of crusty sourdough bread, or a baguette and dip that bread in oil – it’s delicious! Or you can go a step further and serve these prawns with Olive and Garlic Sourdough Bread.
Storage & Reheating
Unfortunately, like with other prawn recipes, this Gambas Pil Pil recipe is best served freshly made. Whilst it is safe to store prawns in oil in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 48 hours, we would not recommend reheating this dish. Prawns will overcook, and reheated oil will have a bitter taste.
Since this recipe takes 10 minutes to make from start to finish, we highly recommend serving it freshly made.
Other Delicious Prawn Recipes
Are you in love with prawns as much as we are? If so, we really hope you will give these recipes a go too:
- 15-Minute Red Pesto Pasta With Prawns
- Prawn Saganaki (Greek Prawns With Feta)
- Prawn and Chorizo Risotto
- Prawn Noodles (recipe coming soon)
Gambas Pil Pil (Spanish Chilli Garlic Prawns)
- 180 g king prawns raw, peeled and devained
- 80 ml olive oil not extra virgin
- 2 garlic cloves sliced into thin slices
- 1 red chilli pepper deseeded and finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon parsley finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- ¼ lemon a wedge to garnish
- Pour the olive oil into a frying pan and set it over high heat. Once hot (but not smoking), add the prawns and cook them for 2 minutes, without stirring.
- Add the garlic, chilli and paprika powder and stir, turning the prawns on the other side as you go, and carry on cooking for another 1-2 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, take the prawns out of the oil into a serving dish, pour the chilli garlic oil over them and sprinkle the top with a pinch of salt and pepper. Scatter the parsley on top and garlish with a lemon wedge.
- Squeeze the lemon over and serve warm with crusty bread!