Gambas al Ajillo Silvestre (Wild Garlic Prawns)
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
"There is no such thing as a little garlic.”
Arthur Baer (1886–1969)
Hot off the heels of "Wild Garlic Monkfish Kiev" here's a walk on the wild side with a take on a classic Spanish tapas dish, Gambas al Ajillo, or garlic prawns.
My thinking is that, before commencing, a good handful of wild garlic is infused into olive oil for a couple of hours to avail of the garlic oil essential to the creation of this classic Spanish recipe. Plump king prawns are then fried pink in a hefty quantity of this oil with an optional piece or two of dried red chilli (used in greater quantity the dish may be served under the moniker “Gambas al Pil Pil”) and some seasoning. It is finished with “chiffonade” of wild garlic to complete the full allium allure.
Purists, it seems, keep the array of ingredients to an absolute bare minimum, and that includes the omission of parsley that would so often garnish the finished dish. I am confident, however, that such folk could bring themselves to overlook the madness and see the merits in my method.
Though I wonder whether wild garlic is actually available in Spain, it is clearly known of by Spanish food writers. With the help of my Spanish aunt we managed to unearth its Spanish name of “ajo silvestre” (I assumed it would be called “ajo salvaje” if anything) and when I told the story to my mother she reached back in her memory of school Latin classes and suggested that “silvestre” was indeed a word that suggested “wild”. Of course, I then have to look it up but, guess what…? Mums are always right!
I would love to make this dish with the King prawns now cultivated in the UK but at this moment in time both producers (that I am aware of) are out of stock as they boost their operations to cater for the demand that the popularity of their product has engendered. Nice problem to have!
My thanks to pals Sam and Ginny, who live in Devon, for the batch of foraged leaves kindly posted from their nearby woods.
Serve with bread and ¡que aproveche!
Traditionally cooked in a "cazeula de barro" (earthenware dish, as in the image) and served in the same dish, many food-writers argue that this method leads to the prawns continuing to cook as they are served and sit at the table to the point that they soon become overcooked. Not least because they are so scaldingly hot when they arrive at the table that they have to be left for a while. Instead the perceived wisdom is to cook the prawns in a skillet and transfer them to a warm (rather than hot) earthenware dish (or any other serving dish) to allow them to cool more quickly and thereby arrest their cooking.
My favourite way to serve prawns in a dish like this is to shell them but for the tails. This not only looks rather attractive in the presentation but, for those who like to eat with their fingers, and this is a dish that certainly qualifies for that approach, provides a convenient, natural handle to pick up a chosen prawns.
In the ingredients list it states that the wild garlic leaves should be "thinly shredded". In the lexicon of classic cookery the term "chiffonade" is used and typically prescribes that the wild garlic leaves should be piled on top of one another, rolled into a "cigar" and then sliced crossways to create the shreds. I like this approach and then choose to cut these "chiffonade" in half to create shorter shreds that I find suit the dish perfectly.
Gambas al Ajillo Silvestre (Wild Garlic Prawns)
Ingredients (serves 4 as a tapas dish)
12 King prawns, peeled (see recipe intro)
8-10 tbsp wild garlic olive oil (see below)
2-4 dried red chillies (or substitute with a few pinches of dried chilli flakes)
15 or so wild garlic leaves, thinly shredded (see recipe intro)
Parsley sprigs, to garnish (optional)
Lemon wedges or slices, to serve (optional)
For the wild garlic olive oil:
A handful of wild garlic leaves and stalks, coarsely chopped
175ml olive oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
Make the wild garlic olive oil ahead. Heat the chopped wild garlic and olive oil in a saucepan until the oil just starts to bubble. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 1 hour. Strain into a jar and the oil is now ready to use but can be kept for many days.
Season the prawns with salt and put an earthenware serving dish in an oven at 100°C to warm up.
Heat the 8-10 tbsp wild garlic olive oil in a skillet (or equivalent) with the dried red chillies (or chilli flakes) until hot. Add the prawns and fry for about 3 mins, turning occasionally until the prawns turn pink and are just cooked through then stir in about two-thirds of the shredded wild garlic.
Transfer the contents of the skillet to the warmed serving dish, sprinkle over the remaining shredded wild garlic, garnish with parsley sprigs and serve immediately with lemon wedges or slices, and plenty of bread.
"Wild Garlic Monkfish Kiev", Bute Street Seafoodie