Who doesn't love an easy shrimp with garlic dinner? This classic Portuguese recipe is all about flavor and speed, giving you a dynamite dish on the table in under 30 minutes, perfect for hosting a last minute happy hour with friends or when you're rushing in the door after work.
Living in Portugal has taught me so much about cooking with simple ingredients and creating an easy dish with knock-out flavors.
This popular recipe, known as Gambas al Ajillo in Spain, takes just a pound of shrimp and a handful of pantry staples to create a craveable, memorable garlic shrimp dish.
This is the dish I've ordered more than any other in restaurants all across the country. The first time we visited Portugal it was the dish I was most eager to recreate once we got home to the US.
One more staple of Portuguese cuisine that never disappoints!
What you need to make Easy Portuguese Shrimp with Garlic:
Olive oil: a good extra virgin olive oil is key. I use a lovely local Portuguese variety from the Alentejo. Use what you have! Remember to check your label for the acidity level in your olive oil - that's the easiest way to determine quality. Look for an oil with .07 acidity or lower for the best flavor.
Fresh garlic cloves: does 8 garlic cloves seem like a lot? It's just the right amount.
Red chili: spice levels are a matter of personal preference. I use a piri-piri pepper or ½ of a long red pepper (like a fresno) for 1 pound of shrimp. If you're out of fresh spicy peppers, substitute ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes.
Seasonings: sea salt, black pepper and smoked paprika are all you need to make this intensely flavorful, authentic dish.
White wine: just a quarter cup of quality white wine is perfect. Nothing too fancy, just something worth drinking with the finished dish.
Shrimp: medium or large shrimp work best here, nothing too giant, nothing too tiny. Be sure the shrimp are cleaned and deveined and dried very well. If using frozen shrimp, thaw before cooking.
Lemon juice: fresh is always best! Just ½ of the lemon is used for juice in the sauce. Wedge up the other half for serving.
Fresh cilantro leaves: the key to an authentic Portuguese garlic shrimp is cilantro, or coentros, as it's known here. You can substitute flat leaf parsley or chives if you must, but it just won't be the same. Give cilantro a try!
Full ingredient list and measurements included in the printable recipe card below.
Tips on buying shrimp:
Living near the ocean gives me easy access to fresh shrimp every day of the week. A wonderful luxury, but completely unnecessary for this recipe.
If you live inland, don't despair! Frozen shrimp are usually caught, cleaned and frozen quickly, ensuring a very fresh product.
They are also much more economical. And once tossed in this easy chili garlic sauce, you'll be too busy slurping up the shrimp to worry about the freezer
While colossal, 2-4 count shrimp are always impressive, I prefer medium or large shrimp in this recipe. I find them to be the most consistently sweet in flavor and they easily take on the intensely savory Portuguese garlic sauce.
Step-by-step instructions for Portuguese Shrimp with Garlic:
Begin by heating ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat (if your stove runs hot, medium-low heat is best).
Gently sauté 8 thinly sliced garlic cloves until tender, but not browned, about 4 minutes.
Add sliced red chili peppers (or flakes, if using), one teaspoon of smoked paprika, ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Cook another minute to allow the spices to toast.
Increase to medium-high heat and add ¼ cup white wine (carefully, if working over an open flame!) Cook for 2 minutes or until wine reduces by half.
Add raw shrimp to pan. Cook about 2 minutes on each side, or until just cooked through. (Be aware that this is not very much cook time. Once the shrimp are turned in the pan, you're on the fast track to dinner!) Total time cooking is about 10 minutes from sautéing the garlic to plating the shrimp.
Remove from heat. Add cilantro and add lemon juice to the pan. Toss to coat. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning, if needed.
Serve with a warm loaf of French bread to soak up all that delicious Portuguese garlic sauce.
To store leftover shrimp, keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. To reheat, warm in a skillet over medium-low, just until heated through.
FAQs about Cooking Shrimp with Garlic:
Yes! Fun fact... while living on the ocean gives me access to fresh shrimp-literally, right off the boat-frozen shrimp is also fresh and local and super economical. So we often have shrimp in our freezer just waiting for inspiration to strike. I thaw shrimp in the refrigerator overnight or in a bowl of cold water.
I have made this recipe with cooked shrimp by making the sauce in the skillet (follow steps 1, 2 and 4 of the recipe) and then adding the shrimp at the end to toss in the sauce and heat through.
Slicing garlic and cooking it gently produces a mellow garlic presence. Chopped garlic releases more sulfur from the cloves and gives off a more aggressive flavor, which is counterintuitive since the pieces are so small. Science...who can make this up? That said, follow the garlic method that works best for your tastes. If dicing or mincing, reduce garlic to 4-5 cloves.
My preference is a loaf of crusty bread and maybe a stick of butter (for when the garlic sauce runs out), and of course, piri piri sauce (Portugal's version of Frank's hot sauce). I love roasting a tray of sweet colored peppers to eat with the shrimp and baguette. Grilled Asparagus would be an ideal side dish. In Iberia, it's common to see this shrimp dish served at family gatherings from a large skillet with plain white rice and French fries.
It's only as spicy as the pepper you use! So if you want spicy Portuguese shrimp, add a whole chili, or two chilis, or a chili and some extra hot pepper sauce. But if you prefer a tasty-but-mild Portuguese recipe, skip the chili pepper and add a pinch of red pepper flakes, or nothing at all.