Gambas al Pil Pil – Sizzling Spicy Prawns

3 Nov

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 Responses to “Gambas al Pil Pil – Sizzling Spicy Prawns”

  1. cookinginsens November 3, 2011 at 17:00 #


    • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 17:03 #

      Grab a fork and a chunk of bread and come on over!

  2. JamieAnne November 3, 2011 at 17:20 #

    Yum! Only 2 of my family of 4 will eat shrimp. And my daughter is spice picky, but this looks tasty.

  3. ceciliag November 3, 2011 at 18:02 #

    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

    • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 18:24 #

      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.

      • ceciliag November 3, 2011 at 21:55 #

        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

      • chicaandaluza November 4, 2011 at 09:06 #

        And you are tooo kind! And yes, the oil is wonderful…we´re very lucky.

  4. gardenfreshtomatoes November 3, 2011 at 18:04 #

    Oh, my! I’ll pack up the cookies, and be right there!

  5. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide November 3, 2011 at 18:43 #

    Quit making me jealous with your peppers! I mean hooray look at your wonderful peppers. I love this dish. Simple and fantastic.

    • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 18:52 #

      Sorry Greg, but I am suffering with a touch of immodest pride!

  6. Fiona Flores Watson November 3, 2011 at 18:46 #

    Is this the same as Gambas Al Ajillo? That has chillies too. I cooked some on the barbie the other day, just put them in a cast-iron dish over the coals.

    • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 18:54 #

      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 😦

  7. spicegirlfla November 3, 2011 at 19:09 #

    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!!

    • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 19:21 #

      Ooh – lovely. Hope you enjoy it! It´s so quick and easy which is a plus.

  8. tedgriffith November 3, 2011 at 19:12 #

    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. 🙂

    • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 19:22 #

      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.

      • tedgriffith November 3, 2011 at 20:54 #

        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.

      • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 21:56 #

        What a shame – I think it´s a fairly common allergy. At least you can eat fish though 🙂

  9. chaiselongue1 November 3, 2011 at 19:17 #

    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.

    • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 19:23 #

      It´s funny isn´t it- but the earthenware does tend to add a little something special. I have lots of pots and dishes like this as they are cheap here.

  10. Caroline November 3, 2011 at 19:50 #

    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. 😉

    • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 21:56 #

      Well, you need it to cool your mouth down! At least…that´s my excuse 🙂

  11. Mad Dog November 3, 2011 at 21:03 #

    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 😉

    • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 21:58 #

      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).

      • Mad Dog November 5, 2011 at 21:31 #

        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!

      • chicaandaluza November 5, 2011 at 21:46 #

        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.

  12. Lauren November 3, 2011 at 21:10 #

    Looks great as always! I love this dish– I make mine super spicy (the Spaniard is getting used to it). Thanks for the recipe!

    • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 21:59 #

      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” 🙂

  13. ChgoJohn November 3, 2011 at 21:51 #

    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!

    • chicaandaluza November 3, 2011 at 22:01 #

      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 🙂

      • ChgoJohn November 3, 2011 at 23:12 #

        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.

      • chicaandaluza November 4, 2011 at 09:07 #

        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 🙂

  14. sportsglutton November 3, 2011 at 23:37 #

    I wasn’t hungry before reading this post but I am now…and I have no shrimp/prawns!

  15. fati's recipes November 4, 2011 at 02:08 #

    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! 😀

    • chicaandaluza November 4, 2011 at 09:10 #

      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 🙂

  16. Christy November 4, 2011 at 03:49 #

    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!!

    • chicaandaluza November 4, 2011 at 09:12 #

      I confess, I like them really spicy too! Come on over with your fork – I have the bread 🙂

  17. TheDorsetFinca November 4, 2011 at 07:21 #

    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!!!!!

    • chicaandaluza November 4, 2011 at 09:15 #

      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 🙂

  18. xandimusic November 4, 2011 at 10:15 #

    I’m getting hungry!
    Looks great!

  19. Tandy November 4, 2011 at 11:06 #

    I too have heard the second explanation! Looks delish 🙂

  20. Bluejellybeans November 4, 2011 at 12:03 #

    Muy ricos Tanya! Y qué envidia esas guindillas… Que tengas un bonito día.

  21. Karen November 4, 2011 at 12:29 #

    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.

    • chicaandaluza November 4, 2011 at 17:13 #

      The oil is almost the best bit! And thanks for the compliment – Big Man thinks it´s to do with his weeding!

  22. Evie November 4, 2011 at 13:39 #

    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!

    • chicaandaluza November 4, 2011 at 17:16 #

      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!

  23. foodblogandthedog November 5, 2011 at 11:03 #

    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!!

    • chicaandaluza November 5, 2011 at 11:34 #

      Wel I won´t tell anyone about your dunking – it is really tasty isn´t it! The chilli was good this year – should keep us going for a long while.

  24. thefooddoctor November 6, 2011 at 20:00 #

    fil fil in arabic means pepper 🙂
    I love the recipe even though I am not a big fan of hot but it sounds like in this dish it would be worth the heat

    • chicaandaluza November 8, 2011 at 10:36 #

      I guess you could just tone down the fil fil!

  25. thecompletecookbook November 7, 2011 at 12:54 #

    Clearly being away for 4 days means I have lost out on getting my portion of these delicious prawns!
    🙂 Mandy

    • chicaandaluza November 8, 2011 at 10:39 #

      Don´t worry – we´ll be making more son! Hope you had a good break 🙂

  26. Fired Up Cooking SA November 8, 2011 at 18:48 #

    Oh my word – I am drooling and suddenly crave prawns!!! And I also really want your terracotta dish, wow, that’s neat!! 🙂

    • chicaandaluza November 9, 2011 at 09:04 #

      We use those terracotta dishes a lot here – they´re so cheap! And then if they do crack, the chickens get them for their feed!

  27. Susan November 10, 2011 at 15:09 #

    This is one of my absolute favourite ways to eat prawns (or gambas, I should say)! Makes me nostalgic for Spain.

  28. oestrogenoverload January 22, 2012 at 21:37 #

    Just cooked it! thanks for the recipe, really really tasty 🙂

    • Chica Andaluza January 22, 2012 at 22:24 #

      Oh I´m so pleased…thank you for taking the time to comment about it!

  29. boneka wisuda May 27, 2015 at 05:21 #

    I cook with add a little bit of coconut milk and spices. And certainly delicious savory. 🙂

  30. Wardhani April 17, 2016 at 08:29 #

    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


  1. Celebrating shadows | olivesandartichokes - November 23, 2011

    […] al pil pil, made with a chopped chorizo pepper which is spicy rather than hot and lots of garlic (Chica Andaluza has a more authentic version), some of the last green peppers of assorted varieties, that we’ve […]

  2. Scallops Pil Pil « Chica Andaluza - December 13, 2012

    […] Spain) we treated ourselves to some fresh scallops with their roe and decided to cook them Gambas Pil Pil style with plenty of fresh crusty bread to mop up those delicious spicy, garlicky […]

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