Sizzling Gambas Al Pil Pil: A Classic Spanish Tapas Recipe

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Pil pil, a classic tapas dish hailing from the Basque region of Spain, is a symphony of simplicity. Fresh cod bathed in a vibrant sea of olive oil, vibrant with garlic and chilies, creates a flavor explosion that transcends its humble ingredients. This recipe empowers you to recreate this culinary gem in your own kitchen, perfect for a light lunch, a delightful appetizer, or even a satisfying main course.


Gambas Pil Pil Prawns with Garlic and Chilli
Gambas Pil Pil Prawns with Garlic and Chilli

4 cod fillets (around 6 oz each), skin on

  • ½ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 dried red chilies (adjust based on spice preference)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

  • Directions:

    1. Pat the cod dry: Use paper towels to thoroughly remove any excess moisture from the cod fillets. This step ensures a crispy skin when seared.
    2. Heat the olive oil: In a large skillet or pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. You want the oil to be hot but not smoking.
    3. Introduce the aromatics: Add the sliced garlic to the hot oil. Let it sizzle gently without burning, until it becomes fragrant and lightly golden brown. This typically takes around 2-3 minutes.
    4. Spice things up (or not): Throw in the dried red chilies. Adjust the amount based on your desired level of spiciness. If you prefer a milder dish, remove the seeds from the chilies before adding them. Briefly saute the chilies with the garlic for about 30 seconds, allowing their flavors to mingle with the oil.
    5. Sear the cod: Carefully place the cod fillets, skin-side down, into the hot oil. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let the cod sizzle undisturbed for 3-4 minutes, allowing the skin to crisp beautifully.
    6. The magic of basting: Here comes the secret to an incredibly flavorful pil pil. Using a spoon, gently baste the cooked side of the cod with the hot, garlicky olive oil. This process infuses the fish with the delicious flavors from the pan. Continue basting for another 2-3 minutes, or until the cod flakes easily with a fork.
    7. Rest and serve: Remove the pan from heat and let the cod rest for a minute or two. This allows the juices to redistribute for a more flavorful and moist fish. Plate the cod, skin-side up, spooning the garlicky olive oil over the top. Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley for an extra touch of color, if desired.

    Nutrition Facts (per serving):

    This recipe yields approximately 4 servings. Please note that these are approximate values and may vary depending on the specific ingredients used.

    Calories: 450

  • Fat: 30g
  • Saturated Fat: 7g
  • Cholesterol: 80mg
  • Sodium: 450mg (depending on salt usage)
  • Carbohydrates: 2g
  • Protein: 45g

  • Disclaimer: Nutritional data is provided for informational purposes only.


    Pil pil’s beauty lies in its deceptive simplicity. With just a handful of ingredients and minimal cooking time, you can create a dish that is both elegant and incredibly satisfying. The interplay of textures, from the crispy skin to the flaky fish, combined with the vibrant flavors of garlic, chili, and olive oil, makes for a truly unforgettable culinary experience. So, the next time you crave a taste of Spain or simply seek a quick and impressive meal, give pil pil a try.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

    1. Can I use a different type of fish besides cod?

    Yes, while cod is the traditional choice, other white fish like hake, halibut, or monkfish can also work well in this recipe. Just ensure the fish is of similar thickness to cod for even cooking.

    2. What if I don’t like spicy food?

    You can omit the chilies altogether or use a milder variety like ancho chilies.

    3. What can I serve with pil pil?

    Pil pil pairs beautifully with crusty bread for soaking up the delicious olive oil. Roasted vegetables, a simple green salad, or steamed rice are also excellent accompaniments.

    4. Can I make pil pil ahead of time?

    While the flavors are best enjoyed fresh, you can prepare the pil pil up to a day in advance. However, the cod will lose some of its crispness when reheated.

    5. How can I store leftover pil pil?