Boy, were we exotic – “I’ll have the Gambas Pil Pil”

Gambas Pil PilI was 19 years of age and we (the Lads) were on our first Spanish apartment holiday. We were the height of Irish male sophistication, looking like six milk bottles for the first couple of days and like a breed of strange glowing lobsters for the balance of the fortnight. We proudly displayed and contrasted our tans beside the pool. Me a golden bronze (in my head) and the others a more swarthy mahogany (in their heads). Time by the pool would be spent recovering from the previous night’s excess and preparing ourselves for that yet to come. This would involve lying in the Feungirola sun, feeling like death warmed up before being brave enough to have the first bottle of San Miguel. 

A couple of them would set the world to rights and we would have lunch in the poolside bar. The speciality of the house being a very strange, square, beef burger. Nothing another couple of San M’s would not rinse away.  As the evening beckoned we would repair to the apartment, a two bed, sleeping six. Washed, suited, booted and wearing enough aftershave to empty a badger set we would go out for our evening meal.

Fancy menus and preening waiters would usually be too much for us. A good deal of steak and chips was ordered. The starter of choice was the traditional prawn cocktail. This until the evening when one of the group enquired “What’s that they’re eating?”, pointing to an adjacent table. There began our over-indulgence in Gambas Pil Pil. Prawns in paprika, chili, garlic, parsley and olive oil. We had it in numerous restaurants only holding back if we thought the garlic would interfere with our ‘chances’ in the nightclubs on the strip.

Beautiful olive oil is the basis of this Spanish classic. This oil is from Portugal BTW.

Beautiful olive oil is the basis of this Spanish classic. This oil is from Portugal BTW.

To make your own, first, go out and buy a few ovenproof dishes. These are traditional Spanish and dirt cheap. Add a generous layer of oil. You really don’t need me to give you exact measure. You want enough to have the prawns swimming rather than drowning.

Here’s what else I used:

  • 3 single clove garlics, equating to about a bulb of ordinary garlic.
  • 24 prawns
  • 1 big handful of parsley
  • 3 teaspoons of smoked paprika.
  • 3 generous pinches of hot chili flakes

Next thing to do is pop the ovenproof dishes with oil into a 220º C oven. While these are heating up (until the oil starts to bubble), chop the garlic.

A nice big pile of garlic, chopped and ready to flavour the oil.

A nice big pile of garlic, chopped and ready to flavour the oil.

Then do likewise with the parsley. Best to leave this until just before you take the dishes out of the oven as it tends to wilt pretty quickly.

Plenty of parsley too. This adds a lovely dimension to the otherwise hot and garlicky dish.

Plenty of parsley too. This adds a lovely dimension to the otherwise hot and garlicky dish.

Add the prawns, garlic, paprika and chili flakes to the hot oil and stir to coat.

Don't get your fingers in the oil. It's very hot! I know.

Don’t get your fingers in the oil. It’s very hot! I know.

Pop them back into the oven for about 5 to 10 minutes. Keep an eye on them. If they over-cook, they will taste like rubber. Serve them straight from the oven with some nice white bread to dip in the hot, peppery, garlicky, oil. Delicious.

Very nice with a glass of crisp white wine. So, that's what we had.

Very nice with a glass of crisp white wine. So, that’s what we had.

In time, we Lads grew out of our beer, steak and chips stage. Some of even gave up lying in the sun and going to nightclubs. I do think that question asked of our preening waiter all those years ago helped move us along. Do give this a try it’s easy and very, very tasty.

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  • Conor, that looks astounding! I love simple, flavourful dishes like this (as you know!).

    • Thanks Nick. So easy to cook and so tasty. I thought it would be up your street.

      • Well, you were quite right! Hope you’ve been enjoying the cycling.

        • Greatly. Hoping for a bit of spring to go with it.

  • How wonderful to hear about your escapades as a young milk bottle in your youth! Such a great story and I can totally see your reaction to that delicious gamberi after all those prawn cocktails. In fact, I have a craving specifically for Spanish food tonight, true story! 🙂

  • One of my favorite tapas bar dishes, and for some reason I never think to make it at home. Love the “swimming rather than drowning” description. And the reminiscence.

    • Thanks Michelle, the description is not original but I can’t remember where it comes from.

  • Simple and succulent. A favourite of mine, beautifully described here, Conor!

  • Never come across these before – they sound fabulous.

  • Love the recipe and the picture 🙂

    • Thanks. I like to do the simple stuff.

  • What a fantastic Spanish Tapas dish. I would love to slice a hunk off that bread and dip into the shrimp dish with the fragrant oil. Maybe a glass of Spanish wine to wash it down with…

    • That’s the idea BAM. It’s very easy to do and flavoursome.

  • Food of the Gods as far as I’m concerned Conor, looks great. Was smiling and nodding along as I read about the lads holiday too. Not sure the garlic would have made any difference to our slim ‘chances’ though and the drenching in ‘Joop’ and ‘Aqua di Gio’ made us positively flammable.

  • Looks so much better than anything I saw in Spain! Yum!

  • Bahaha. Another cracking story and pics and recipe. Those prawns looks effing awesome!

  • Up until last Saturday I was a tapas virgin, but some friends brought me to Lunares in Galway and now I can’t get enough! Btw where would one purchase those authentic dishes in ireland?

    • Hi Naomi, I have never been to Lunares. A treat in store. You can get the dishes in Avoca. They do a range of sizes and they are pretty cheap.

      • I’ve heard Cava is the place to go in Galway, so that’s next on my list, ahh great, an excellent reason for me to visit my beloved avocado, thanks for that. Naomi

  • Conor, what a wonderful memory. Your story of your boyhood adventure is Spain is witty, comical and well-written. You definitely sold me on the dish, particularly with the shot of the gambas pil pil next to a perfect baguette and crisp vino blanco. 🙂 Best, Shanna

  • Nice one Conor and that’s tonight’s meal sorted!

  • Brings me back memories of the last time I was in a Spanish tapas bar with friends in England. We spent hours eating and drinking till we started talking rubbish. I can’t imagine it’s been more like 10 years since I had a shrimp tapas like this one! Perhaps it was this….who knows…too drunk too know! But it was good…I remember that much!
    This is an idea for our Mad Men premier night!

    • Great idea. I’m glad I can bring back memories through the post. It’s a pity they have to be such hazy memories….

      • Hazy is good sometimes….it often hazes out the the embarrassing ones. 😀 BTW: making your shrimp tapas this weekend…Veep premiere! I will et you know.

        • Loved it Conor! Thanks so much for the recipe. We ate it just as it was without bread. Loved the heat but next time I’m going to bump it up a bit. A definite repeat!

          • Excellent! I really get a disproportionate kick when others try my stuff (and enjoy it). I might just dial up the heat too.

          • Don’t we all! Food bloggers live for this…. I tried it with slightly bigger shrimps and cooked it a tad bit longer. I’m thinking more heat next time and what do you think about chopped oregano instead of parsley? I’ll also leave the tail on so I have an excuse to use no cutlery.

          • Yes to all. The oregano could be very nice indeed.

  • I remember those halcyon days. One such day sticks out – a field trip to Portugal. We had to assess the historic changes to an orange farm type place. I spent the day under an orange tree (do oranges grow on trees? I don’t remember) hallucinating. I blamed the ‘whatever i ate the night before’. When we got back to the hotel the barman fixed me up with a creme de menthe and milk – after that I was back to normal like nothing had happened.

    • The thoughts of Creme de Menthe and milk is decidedly blood curdling. I could go with the rest of it though. I know the feeling of ‘something I ate’. We all say it and nobody buys it!

  • Uncomplicated and so flavorful! Tapas really is a lovely style of eating. Great post.

    • Thanks. I enjoyed writing it and the cooking is so easy, one could cook this for supper any day.

  • I have the ‘female’ version of those memories!!! Oh the days… Wonderful and the recipe looks great too.

    • Thanks Grainne. Sadly, these days, I’m only up for the food. The idea of a huge meal followed by a night and a morning in a club makes me feel Ill.

  • you are different!

  • Six milk bottles, indeed. Ha! Oh, to have once been so young and naive. This sounds like a great recipe that I’ll definitely be trying. I tasted my first smoked eel in similar circumstances in Amsterdam. On the same visit, a group of Dutch girls sitting on a stoop watched me walk past and called out, “Hello, American!” I stopped and asked them how they knew. I imagine they’re still sitting on that stoop, laughing. Ken

    • We were all young once Ken. I think the trick is to still act that way.

  • Where would a man find cheap and cheerful ovenproof dishes such as those in the DunLaoghaire area Conor? Did up a batch of Gambas Pil Pil for my round of Come Dine With Me but used a pan as didn’t have the dishes to hand. Very nice but from looking at your pictures I suspect your oil is a lot more flavoursome, all the better for a little bread mopping

    • Hi Jack,
      I got those ones in Avoca, just south of Bray. They have similar in Kitchen Complements. Better range of sizes in Avoca.

  • Just posted this recipe on my Pinterest board for future reference. Delicious!

    • Very easy and quick. Well worth pinning. Thanks.

  • My g*,you are unique,i have never encountered your kind.Are you in the food and beverage industry because apart from that,you are living dangerously!good day mate!

  • Add cognac as they do in Barcelona

    Nicely done

    • Thanks for visiting and for the good comment. That sounds like it could add a nice dimension to an already tasty dish.

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