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Gambas a la Plancha: A Spanish Delight

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Gambas a la Plancha, or Grilled Shrimp, is a classic Spanish dish that captures the essence of Mediterranean cuisine. Known for its simplicity and rich flavors, this dish is a staple in tapas bars and seaside restaurants throughout Spain. The key to perfect Gambas a la Plancha lies in high-quality shrimp, minimal seasoning, and the searing heat of the grill or plancha. In this article, we will explore the history of this beloved dish, list the essential ingredients, and provide a detailed recipe to help you prepare Gambas a la Plancha at home.

History and Origin

Gambas a la Plancha has its roots in the coastal regions of Spain, where fresh seafood is abundant. The word “plancha” refers to a flat metal plate used for grilling, which is similar to a griddle. This cooking method is popular in Spanish cuisine for its ability to quickly sear food, locking in flavors and juices. The dish is a testament to the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fresh, high-quality ingredients and straightforward cooking techniques. Traditionally, Gambas a la Plancha is served with a sprinkle of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon, allowing the natural sweetness of the shrimp to shine.

Ingredients

To prepare Gambas a la Plancha, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 lb (450g) large shrimp or prawns, shell-on and deveined
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Sea salt (preferably coarse)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • Fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)
  • Optional: a pinch of smoked paprika or cayenne pepper for a hint of spice

Preparation

1. Preparing the Shrimp: Start by rinsing the shrimp under cold water and patting them dry with paper towels. Leaving the shells on during grilling helps protect the delicate meat and enhances the flavor. If the shrimp are not already deveined, use a small knife to make a shallow cut along the back of each shrimp and remove the vein.

2. Marinating the Shrimp: In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, minced garlic, sea salt, and black pepper. Add the shrimp to the bowl and toss to coat them evenly with the marinade. Let the shrimp marinate for about 15-20 minutes. This step helps infuse the shrimp with the garlic and oil flavors while keeping the preparation time short.

3. Heating the Plancha or Grill: If you have a plancha, preheat it over high heat until it is very hot. If using an outdoor grill, preheat it to high heat. The cooking surface should be hot enough to sear the shrimp quickly and create a nice char without overcooking them.

4. Grilling the Shrimp: Place the shrimp on the hot plancha or grill in a single layer, ensuring they are not overcrowded. Cook the shrimp for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until they turn pink and opaque with a slight char on the shells. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp, as they can become tough and rubbery.

5. Serving: Transfer the grilled shrimp to a serving platter. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the shrimp and garnish with chopped parsley. For an added touch of flavor, sprinkle a pinch of smoked paprika or cayenne pepper over the shrimp if desired. Serve immediately, with additional lemon wedges on the side.

Tips and Variations

  • Shrimp Quality: Use the freshest shrimp you can find for the best flavor. Wild-caught shrimp are often more flavorful than farm-raised ones.
  • Marinades: While the traditional recipe keeps it simple, you can experiment with different marinades, such as adding white wine, fresh herbs, or chili flakes to the olive oil and garlic mixture.
  • Cooking Method: If you don’t have a plancha or grill, you can use a heavy-bottomed skillet or cast-iron pan on the stovetop. Ensure it is very hot before adding the shrimp.
  • Serving Suggestions: Gambas a la Plancha pairs well with crusty bread to soak up the juices, a simple green salad, or a side of Spanish rice.
  • Presentation: Serve the shrimp with the shells on for a more authentic presentation. Provide a bowl for discarded shells and plenty of napkins for your guests.

Conclusion

Gambas a la Plancha is a delightful dish that brings the flavors of the Spanish coast to your table. Its simplicity allows the natural sweetness of the shrimp to shine, enhanced by the charred, smoky notes from the grill. This dish is perfect for a quick and easy appetizer, a light main course, or a standout addition to a tapas spread. By following this recipe, you can recreate the magic of a Spanish seaside meal at home, enjoying the fresh and vibrant tastes that make Gambas a la Plancha a beloved classic. Whether you are entertaining guests or enjoying a quiet meal at home, this dish is sure to impress and satisfy.

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Written by Robert Zelesky

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