The Cottage Smallholder

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Birthday food: Gambas al pil pil recipe revisted

gambas al pil pilIt’s Danny’s birthday.
“What would you like to eat this evening?”
“Well, I don’t know really.”

“How about Diana Henry’s Spiced Chicken breasts on melting onions with preserved lemon? They’re delicious Even Bunty asked for the recipe.”
“They sound great but I don’t remember them.”

But I couldn’t find the chicken breasts in the freezer.

“How about a takeaway from Arif?”
D’s eyes lit up. This Indian restaurant is very good since they employed a new chef two years ago. We don’t do takeaways these days but a birthday is a Birthday.

I had also discovered some frozen raw king prawns.
“There’s just one more option. Gambas Pil Pil. A whole pack just for you plus half my pack?”

Resistance was futile. The prawns won.

Gambas Pil Pil are ideally a starter. Bur can be padded out for a main course. We’d recommend a good salad and loads of crusty bread. D’s brother Donagh cooked these for us on the memorable evening, just before he fell, laughing, into the pond. I still smile at his comment the next morning.
“I woke up and wondered what the green stuff was on the tiles in the shower. Then I saw my pile of clothes and the duck weed.”

I’ve posted the recipe for Gambas Pil Pil as a spaghetti sauce. But they really shine accompanied by crusty bread and a good bottle of chilled Pinot Noir. It has been said that they can make a man forget the passing of the years for the ten minutes that it takes to devour them. I can vouch for that. Could this be the culinary version of the Power of Now?

Do try Gambas al Pil Pil at home. Delicious. Dream food for that very special occasion.

Donagh’s Gambas al pil pil recipe (for 2 or for 4 as a starter)


  • 300g of raw king prawns unfrozen
  • 2 chunky cloves of garlic (very thinly sliced and chopped)
  • 1 small hot red birds eye chilli (finely chopped, seeds removed)
  • 5 tbls of olive oil
  • zest and Juice of one lemon (or half a large lemon)
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  • crusty French bread


  1. Heat the olive oil (medium to hot until it is just smoking). Add the garlic, lemo zest and chilli. Just as the garlic is turning pale brown toss in the prawns.
  2. Keep turning the prawns as you add the lemon juice.
  3. When the prawns are no longer translucent (1-2 minutes). Add a sprinkle of salt and plenty of ground black pepper and serve on warm plates with crusty French bread.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sylvie

    They are delicious. Well worth trying.

    Hi Pamela

    Falling in the pond isn’t fun. I’ve fallen in our little pond twice this summer. All those little red worms. YUK. I carried on working in the garden on both occasions but seemed to feel the worms creeping up my legs.

    Good recipe though!

    Hi Magic Cochin

    Bet the Tabby Studio Assistant never made that mistake again!

    Hi Rosie

    Hope that the recipe turned out well for you!

    Hi Pat

    The prawns are good but you do need to use uncooked (grey) prawns to get the prawn juices flowing.

    Hi S.O.L

    Garlic prawns are so good! Lived in Torquay for 8 years when I was growing up… never ate out back then!

    Hello Jan

    Thanks for dropping by. Thanks also for the tip must give it a whirl.

    Hi Amanda

    Do hope that you had good holidays this summer.

    Hi Tony

    We had no parsley, sob. It does make the dish even better. Thanks so much for dropping by.

  2. Tony Spain

    Depending on the restaurant/Chef, one of the most delicious starters ever.
    The best in all Spain I have tried is in a small restaurant in Vinuela, Malaga Province. Served and cooked in a hot earthenware dish, with, to me, mysterious ingredients which must include garlic, paprika, chilli and quite a lot of a green herb which I assume is parsley. The debris at the bottom of the dish is absolutely fantastic with crusty French bread. Nothing gets left except a tiny amount of olive oil.

  3. Just returned from visiting family in the North East and we’ve missed Danny’s birthday.

    Many big and bobbly belated birthday wishes with bells on!

    Gambas al pil pil – food fit for a King…

  4. Jan Jones

    Happy belated birthday! But honestly, we’ve found Essence2 to be SO much better than the Arif …

  5. I make something like this minus the chilli, I have blogged about it many times, that is how much we love it! So I might just have to add some to see how it comes back. I copied it from one of my favourite restaurants called No. 7 Bistro, or is it Bistro No. 7, anyways it is in Torquay. There is so much garlic in the butter that it is really garlic with a hint of butter. Oh yes, eating that, can make you forget the world for a short time. Lovely.

  6. Happy Birthday Danny!!! The prawns look lovely!!!

  7. Happy Birthday Danny

    And as I have just bought some frozen King Prawns I now know what to do with them. Thank you 🙂

  8. magic cochin

    Happy Birthday Danny!!!
    Duckweed can be a cunning disguise for murky depths – as the tabby studio assistant learnt on one of her first explorations of the garden!

    Seriously yummy looking prawns!

  9. Happy birthday Danny! The prawns look heavenly, this is definitely going on my “must try” list, in the super quick categorie. I loved the story about falling in the pond. We had a long, narrow pond in our old garden which was full of frogs but had never had fish. My mum managed, one day, to slip in and roll in such a way that she was soaked from head to foot. Retrieving her from the water proved quite tricky as we were all laughing so much.

  10. Oh my, they sound delicious. Happy Bithday to D.!

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