There is a century-old tapas bar in Madrid called La Casa del Abuelo, a dim, miniscule place that serves sickly sweet jug wine and little else besides shrimp a la plancha and the house specialty—garlic shrimp. Sizzled slowly and patiently in small earthenware cazuelas while customers watch, the garlic shrimp offer a textbook example of how this classic tapa should taste. The Atlantic shrimp are ultrafresh and small, as they should be, and simmered so gently in olive oil that they come out just heated through rather than fried. The oil is of excellent quality, plentiful, and so suffused with garlic that people huddle around the bar dunking bread in what’s left long after the shrimp are gone.
Even in less perfect renditions these garlicky shrimp are easy to love, making them one of Spain’s most popular tapas. The secret to success is very fragrant olive oil that is not too heavy in texture, and a cooking vessel that conducts heat slowly and can be presented at the table so diners can dip in their bread. A cazuela is ideal, but you can also use an attractive, deep cast-enamel skillet. If by some rare chance you have any of the garlicky oil left over, toss it with pasta the next day.
- Yield: 5 Servingsas a Tapa, 2 or 3 as a Light Main Course
- 1¼ pounds small shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Coarse salt (kosher or sea
- 1 cup fragrant extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½ small dry red chile, such as arbol, crumbled
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley Country bread, for serving
- Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels, then sprinkle salt over them.
- Place the olive oil and garlic in a 10- to 11- inch earthenware cazuela and heat over medium-low heat until the oil shimmers and the garlic begins to sizzle gently. Cook until the garlic is very fragrant but not colored, 2 to 3 minutes, reducing the heat if necessary. Add the chile and stir for a few seconds. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until they just begin to turn pink, about 3 minutes.
- Season with salt to taste, stir in the parsley, and cook for a few seconds longer. Serve the shrimp in the cazuela with plenty of bread alongside.