Gambas al Pil Pil – Sizzling Spicy Prawns

This is a hugely popular and typically Andalucían tapas dish or starter.  I have tried to find out the origin of the words Pil Pil and some say that it comes from an Arabic word felfel (I don´t speak Arabic so assume it has something to do with spice or chili).  Others say it comes from the sound the prawns make sizzling in the hot oil. I don´t know if either are true – I like both stories, almost as much as I enjoy making and eating Gambas al Pil Pil.

If you can get hold of good prawns (or shrimp) then this is a very easy yet impressive dish to serve to your guests. If you have a terracotta dish to cook them in, well that´s even better as it does add something special to the taste and the prawns stay hot and sizzling for a few minutes as you bring the dish to the table.

Per person for a good tapas serving you will need

  • 100g peeled prawns (defrosted if frozen)
  • 1 dried hot chili and/or half a teaspoon of hot pimentón – this is down to personal taste – crumbled
  • A fat clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • A good pinch of salt

About 2 tablespoons of olive oil (if you are doing a large serving, just use enough oil to half cover the prawns)

Start by putting everything apart from the prawns into a frying pan or terracotta pot. Turn up the heat and cook until the garlic begins to turn brown at the edges.

When you want to serve your dish add the prawns and cook at a lower heat until the prawns are cooked through then turn up the heat until they begin to sizzle.

Serve with plenty of bread to mop up the delicious chili oil. If served in a large pot or pan, it is traditionally served as a sharing dish. Everyone has their own fork and “prongs” their bread into the juices.

Serve with an ice cold beer, a chilled manzanilla or a crisp cool white wine.  ¡Buen provecho!

PS. No fear of me running out of chillis this coming year…the harvest is now safely stored and drying in the shed!


69 thoughts on “Gambas al Pil Pil – Sizzling Spicy Prawns

  1. That is my favourite way to have prawns except i cook them in butter because i am a butter freak. I am still laughing about your image of Daisy sitting under the covers with Big Dog reading him a bed time story! So funny.. ! People have said that they have as much fun reading my comments as they do reading the pages and it is because of witty readers and writers like you! that was great thank you.. c

    1. I´d use butter too if it was more readily available – but you have Daisy for milk and we have our olive trees for oil! I really enjoy reading the comments on other people´s blogs – people can be so perceptive or funny, I agree! And your stories inspire me about stories I have written…really must put some more of them on the blog.

      1. Yes, you are a great writer.. I look forward to that! And you must have such GOOD oil too, being so close to the source.. c

    1. Almost…any dish al ajillo doesn´t usually have chilli (or maybe just a touch). Pil Pil is one of the few spicy dishes in Spanish cuisine (bacalao is also sometimes served this way). Barbied prawns = totally delicious! Our bbq died recently and we haven´t replaced it yet 😦

  2. Believe it or not, I was planning on making something similar for my son and I tonight for dinner!! I’m going to use your recipe now!! And I’ll make sure to get some bread!!

  3. This looks absolutely deilcious! Too bad I can’t try it (I’m allergic to shrimp, prawns, lobster, etc.), but it is a treat for the eyes. 🙂

    1. Aah – what a shame. They also make it here with bacalao (salted cod fillets – but you could use any firm white fish). That´s very good too if you´re not allergic.

      1. I’ll give it a try with the fish! I can eat all other seafood except the crustaceans. Has to do with some sort of enzyme.

  4. Oh, I love gambas al pil pil and these look wonderful. And it’s good to see them in an earthenware dish, which I think gives the dish – any dish – a special flavour.

  5. Look at all of those peppers! No fair. This dish sounds fantastic. You’re right, it would be even better with an ice cold beer or glass of vino. 😉

  6. That looks delicious, especially as it’s steaming – I make that a lot, but didn’t know the name, I progressed from al ajillo – chilli just seemed to want to join the prawns. I had lots of those pots too – sadly they got left behind when I left Barcelona. I did enjoy cooking with them and love the fact that you are supposed to season them the first time by rubbing garlic into them (I seem to remember it was rubbed into the base)…

    I looked up Pil Pil in a couple of books, but can only find reference to the bacalao dish from Pays Basque. I’ll ask my Basque friend Amaia and see if she knows the origin 😉

    1. Yes, chilli is most definitely needed (in a lot of dishes methinks)! Those pots are so expensive in the UK. If I could figure out a way of transporting them cheaply I could become an earthenware millionaire!

      Do ask your friend (and what a beautiful name she has)- it would be good to know more (and any recipes too).

      1. I just emailed Amaia (as I blogged a dinner we did at her house last week). I was going to ask about pil pil and looked it up to make sure I had the correct spelling and by chance came across this:
        Apparently pil pil means bubbling, in Basque!

      2. Aha – so both my definitions were sort of right. See Fati´s comment about the Arabic word. I love the idea of making it with Kokotxas which we had when we went north – what a delicacy.

    1. I usually make mine super spicy too – this is the original recipe but I usually add more chillis. My Spaniard is getting used to the heat too – when we eat this in restaurants, he asks them to make it “alegre” 🙂

  7. This settle it. I now know what to make for dinner tomorrow night. I would’ve made it tonight but I haven’t any bread. It’s a cold, dreary, wet day and I’m not going out into it. So, I now have a sponge “fermenting” in the kitchen and tomorrow morning I’ll be baking ‘pane rustico’ to enjoy with my spicy prawns tomorrow night. I may even make a little spaghetti agio e olio and, who knows? Some of those spicy prawns just might end up atop the spaghetti. Thanks, Tanya, for yet another great recipe!

    1. Ooh – I am liking the sound of your pane rustico. Hope you´re going to give us the recipe. And now that you´ve mentioned it, this is essentially aglio, olio and peperoncino with added prawns and would be amazing on pasta! I think we´re geniuses 🙂

      1. Yes, the pane rustico recipe is in the works. This bread has been called “crack bread” and with good reason. Served warm with a little butter or honey and it is addictive — just like these prawns of yours.

      2. That sounds wonderful – haven´t had my breakfast yet and the sound of warm bread with butter and honey is making my mouth water! Looking forward to seeing the recipe some time soon 🙂

  8. Wow, so many comments, I didn’t read them all, but I speak Arabic, and fel fel, or more properly spelt + pronounced, full fol MEAAAANNNSSSS……. PEPPER!! 😀
    This is probably why many have drawn it back to that word!

    This looks really yummy, you’ve inspired me to make a spicy prawn curry for tomorrow’s dinner party! Thank you! 😀

    1. Hi Fati – I was tempted to ask you about the word and spelling before I posted as I thought “Fati will know”! So glad you´ve sorted that one out for me…makes sense now. Spicy prawn curry and a dinner party – sounds like a wonderful weekend ahead for you…let us know how it goes 🙂

  9. I LOVE prawns, shrimps, whatever, and this looks like an ideal way to have them….though they must be really SPICYYYYYYYYYY 😛
    I wanna grab a fork now!!

  10. Gambas are my favourite thing in the world… I would just have to turn down the spice a smidge, although your home-grown chillies do look amazing!!!!!

    1. That´s the great thing about this recipe – turn the heat up, turn it down…as you like! Am so pleased with my chilli crop this year…huge success, even the locals are coming to me for seeds 🙂

  11. Hi Tayna, We both love spicy shrimp but when it comes to the oil in the bottom, my husband would go for that first. What a crop of peppers. I can see why the locals would want seeds. I think the secret lies with the gardener though, not the seeds.

  12. A variation of this was the first ever thing I cooked for The Husband. They do say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach….. It certainly worked for me!

    1. I would agree but the funny thing is the first thing I ever cooked for Big Man was pasta on my last night in Spain when I was clearing everything out of the fridge. I think I was nervous (and probably a bit sloshed as he arrived late) and it was truly horrible! My mum knew she would get on with him when she first met him and said something about me being a good cook and he burst out laughing and told her about the hideous pasta….Hmph!

  13. Your chilli garlands look amazing! I love the sizzle of gambas pil pil and I have to admit (as a vegetarian) that I sometimes dunk my bread in the gorgeous chilli & garlic oil, I can’t resist it, the smell is so fabulous!!

  14. Wow…It looks delicious and yummy food for me.. i’m big fan of spicy food…I wanna try to cook this recipe…thanks for the recipe
    It’s really really tasty and spicy

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