Cooking as a craft, hobby, or means of feeding oneself only relies on the individual understanding its basics and applying a certain level of judgment and practicality. I guess what I’m trying to say is that more often than not, cooking is downright simple if you just ‘get’ it.
Sadly, restraint as a tactic is seldom practiced in gastronomy today simply because we live in a society that has adopted the “more the better” philosophy.
As a chef, I too am at times obliged to practice this for the sake of mass appeal and good business policy. But I try and make it a point to also introduce dishes that rely entirely on simplicity.
In fact, my favorite dish on our current restaurant menu is the simplest one—a very popular Spanish tapas called Gambas Pil Pil (sizzling prawns). The dish takes all of two minutes to cook, granted the mise en place is ready.
The response it gets from customers on the other hand is overwhelming. I’m often called out to the dining room by some enthralled guest asking for the recipe; but only I know how simple it is to prepare. And now you will too.
Heat olive oil in a sauté pan on high flame. Add prawns, season with salt and pepper. Cook for 30 seconds and add garlic. Cook for another 30 seconds and remove from the heat. Add red chili, parsley and lemon juice. Serve hot with toasted baguette.
It’s as easy as that, but the result is sublime. Juicy perfectly cooked prawns with a slight crisp exterior drowned in garlicky olive oil, with the punch of red chili and the tang of lemon. Salty, spicy, and tart with the delicate sweetness from the crustacean. In short, it has the kind of flavor balance and purity of taste that would instantly give you a foodgasm.
Gambas Pil Pil
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 2 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy
½ cup virgin olive oil, good quality
10 each prawns, preferably fresh water
5 each garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 tsp fresh red chili, chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 each lemon, juiced
to taste salt
to taste black pepper
10 slices baguette, toasted or grilled
Heat a sauté pan large enough to just fit all the prawns in one layer. Add the olive oil and turn the heat to high. When the oil is really hot (almost but not smoking), add the prawns and season with salt and pepper.
Sauté for 30 seconds and add the sliced garlic. Cook for another 30 seconds, turn off the heat and add the red chili, parsley and lemon juice. Stir to combine and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Serve hot in shallow bowls with toasted baguette or some other type of crusty bread.
Note: This dish is only as good as the prawns you use to make it. If really fresh prawns are not available, use good quality frozen ones (IQF if possible). Leave the shell on if you’re feeling adventurous and the head as well if you’re a true foodie like I am.