This is an elaboration on a Cook's Illustrated recipe for gambas al ajillo tapas. Traditional gambas al ajillo is made by poaching shrimp in garlic oil, but, as usual, CI tosses out the traditional method as too difficult and unreliable and instead develops convolutions to approximate it.
I kept their three-way garlic technique but I added elements to bolster it into a main dish. I cut their recipe in half so this should double well if you want to serve more than two.
1/4 cup pancetta, diced
7 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined (tails on or off is up to you)
4 Tablespoons flavorful extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 dried chile, broken
1 1/4 teaspoon fine-grained salt (adjust for flakes of kosher or sea)
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika (optional. You might substitute plain paprika or a broken up dried pepper.)
1 medium tomato, diced (good quality and quite ripe by preference)
2 Tablespoons flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 large scallion, finely sliced
1 teaspoon champagne or sherry vinegar
1. Finely mince or crush one garlic clove. Toss with shrimp, one Tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and maybe some red pepper flakes if you'd like a bit more heat. Marinate shrimp at room temperature for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook pancetta over medium-high heat in an 8" non-stick pan until browned and crispy. Remove pan from heat and remove pancetta to a bowl. Either leave ~1 Tablespoon rendered fat or discard and replace with a Tablespoon of olive oil. If you're going to do that, feel free to substitute in jamon serano or prosciutto.
3. Smash two garlic cloves. Add to pan with two Tablespoons olive oil. Return pan to medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until garlic is crisped and a light golden brown, 4-7 minutes. Remove pan from heat and remove garlic to small bowl. Save garlic until you've stopped reeking from all the garlic from this dish. When you need another dose grind up the browned garlic in a mortar with a little salt and olive oil or butter and spread on toast.
4. Thinly slice 4 cloves garlic. Return pan to low heat and add garlic, bay leaf and chile. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is soft and translucent, 4-7 minutes. Turn down heat if it starts to brown; turn it up if it doesn't sizzle. Increase heat to medium-low and add shrimp (with marinade) in a single layer. Cook until top side of shrimp starts to show a little pink, about 2 minutes. Flip shrimp with tongs and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove shrimp to a bowl.
5. Turn heat up to high. Add tomato and smoked paprika. Cook briefly until tomato begins to break down to create a sauce, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in parsley, scallion, pancetta, shrimp and vinegar. Cook until shrimp is cooked through, no more than 30 seconds.
6. Serve immediately with hearty fresh-baked (or at least fresh-toasted) bread.
The dish turned out very nicely. Even with the added ingredients, all the trouble with the garlic was worth it. It infuses both the shrimp and stands up to the tomato and herbs in the sauce.
A citrusy and flinty white wine would be the obvious pairing, but I tried a Belgian-style white beer and was quite happy with the match.