Gambas al Ajillo
I think the first meal that hit me as “Spanish” is a classic tapa called gambas al ajillo. At that moment I realized it was going to be harder to navigate a Spanish menu than I anticipated. This was quite a surprise to me. I speak and read Spanish passably well. I hardly ever have a problem reading a menu written in Spanish when I am at home in Texas. Well, Spanish in the Americas and Spanish in Spain are two different beasts.
The differences make sense in some ways. There are ingredients in Spain that are not that common in Latin America. They are thousands of miles apart with very different climates. The food traditions share a common root, but many dishes have diverged wildly from their sources. In the case of the word “gambas,” I had never once heard this word until I arrived in Spain. The word has always been “camarón.”
There are Actually THREE Words for Shrimp
So in the United States, we use the word shrimp. On rare occasions, we may say prawn. For most of us, a shrimp is a shrimp. The Spanish have a much deeper love affair with fish and seafood and for them, using one word is not enough. There are three main words, and each one indicates a SIZE of shrimp. The largest version of shrimp is a langostino. Say langostino in Central America or Mexico and you can expect to get a lobster. But in Spain, it is a jumbo shrimp. The next size down and most common is the gamba. This is the average size of shrimp. The size of any shrimp you might find on an American table. The smallest size is camarón. Except if you say camarón to a Spaniard, they have no idea what you mean. It is a gamba. So while in Spain, order gambas.
About the Shells
One thing you take away from this is that shrimp shells bring a lot of flavor to the party. I hate peeling shrimp before I cook them. But, lots of people DO NOT LIKE to deal with the peeling the shrimp when they eat their meal. For me, I love the messiness of it. I love licking all the golden spicy, garlicky, shrimp infused olive oil off my fingers. I take great pleasure in the silky oiliness of it all. Leaving the shell on makes me happy. This may not be a great pleasure for you. You may even serve these to guests. In that case, shell the shrimp before you cook them. Its ok, it is still a delightful little plate of food.
Prepare all your ingredients
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