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Published January 1, 2008.  From Cook’s Illustrated.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS:

We wanted a garlic shrimp recipe that would make six good-size appetizer portions of wonderfully sweet and tender shrimp, infused with deep garlic flavor and not drenched in oil. First, we chose a large pan, to accommodate the shrimp in one layer in a reduced amount of oil. Then, to get good garlic flavor in our shrimp recipe, we added garlic in three ways: as minced cloves in a marinade, as smashed whole cloves browned in and removed from the oil before the shrimp were added, and as slices added to the oil before the shrimp were added.

SERVES 6 AS AN APPETIZER

Serve shrimp with crusty bread for dipping in the richly flavored olive oil. The dish can be served directly from the skillet (make sure to use a trivet) or, for a sizzling effect, transferred to an 8-inch cast-iron skillet that’s been heated for 2 minutes over medium-high heat. We prefer the slightly sweet flavor of dried chiles in this recipe, but 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika can be substituted. If sherry vinegar is unavailable, use 2 teaspoons dry sherry and 1 teaspoon white vinegar.

INGREDIENTS

  • 14 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
  • 8 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 (2-inch) piece mild dried chile, such as New Mexico, roughly broken, seeds included (see notes and step by step)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (see note)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Mince 2 garlic cloves with chef’s knife or garlic press. Toss minced garlic with shrimp, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and salt in medium bowl. Let shrimp marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes
  2. Meanwhile, using flat side of chef’s knife, smash 4 garlic cloves. Heat smashed garlic with remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is light golden brown, 4 to 7 minutes. Remove pan from heat and allow oil to cool to room temperature. Using slotted spoon, remove smashed garlic from skillet and discard.
  3. Thinly slice remaining 8 cloves garlic. Return skillet to low heat and add sliced garlic, bay leaf, and chile. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is tender but not browned, 4 to 7 minutes. (If garlic has not begun to sizzle after 3 minutes, increase heat to medium-low.) Increase heat to medium-low; add shrimp with marinade to pan in single layer. Cook shrimp, undisturbed, until oil starts to gently bubble, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, flip shrimp and continue to cook until almost cooked through, about 2 minutes longer. Increase heat to high and add sherry vinegar and parsley. Cook, stirring constantly, until shrimp are cooked through and oil is bubbling vigorously, 15 to 20 seconds. Serve immediately.

SHOPPING

CHOOSING THE RIGHT CHILE

Authentic Choice: The slightly sweet cascabel chile is the traditional choice for gambas al ajillo.

Best Substitute: New Mexico chile (aka California chile, chile Colorado, or dried Anaheim chile) is far more widely available and has the same bright freshness as the cascabel.

Last Resort: You won’t have any trouble finding paprika, but its slightly stale flavor cannot compare with the complex taste of whole dried chiles.

TECHNIQUE

GARLIC FLAVOR THREE WAYS

Raw=Pungent: The minced garlic in the marinade gets cooked briefly with the shrimp, maintaining a hint of raw-garlic pungency.

Browned=Sweet: Gently browning smashed whole garlic cloves infuses the olive oil with a sweet roasted-garlic flavor.

Poached=Mellow: Sliced garlic cooked gently in low-temperature olive oil loses its harsh flavor, becoming soft and mellow.

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