Gambas al Ajillo

Or prawns in garlic as it’s also known as it’s a traditional Spanish tapas dish and it’s one of my favourite tapas dishes. It’s also very easy to make and you can go more or less complicated depending on what your taste is and what you got at home. I suggest using pre-fired dry garlic (in Taiwan you can get in large plastic containers from RT-Mart), as it makes the dish a lot nicer than when you use fresh garlic. Another reason for this is that you get a nice crunchy garlic that doesn’t give you the bad garlic breath. It’s also worth noting that it’s very easy to burn garlic and it gets very bitter if you do this. There are a few different ways of cooking this, but here’s my take on it, which I by no means claim is authentic. The best place I’ve eaten this in this part of the world is a Tapas restaurant in the green belt in Manila, the Philippines.

So what do you need?

To serve four people as a tapas or two as a main course you need the following:

  • 500g of raw peeled, de-veined prawns, with or without tails
  • Good quality olive oil (as you’ll be dipping bread in it)
  • Chili to taste, preferably a Spanish kind, but most chili’s seem to work as long as they’re not too spicy
  • Garlic to taste (loads!), but as I said above, the pre-fried dry garlic makes for a much nicer dish
  • Fresh bread, either something like a baugette or pita bread

You got to options of cooking this, either in an oven safe container, preferably earthenware, or in a skillet/frying pan. Slice up the chili’s. Heat up the oil with the chili’s in it in your container of choice, either on top of your cooker or in the oven (about 200 degrees C is a good temperature), until it sizzles. Add the prawns and garlic, cook for about 4-5 minutes, or until the prawns are cooked through. Make sure you stir them them once or twice while they’re cooking and if you’re using the dry garlic, I’d add some more just before it’s done, as it stays nice and crispy that way. You can put some freshly chopped parsley on top when you serve and enjoy while it’s still hot.

Home made Marzipan

One of the things I’ve found that I sometimes need for baking and that is really expensive to buy in Taiwan is Marzipan. However, it’s quite easy to make by yourself. One great thing here is that it’s dead easy to get hold of powdered almond, as it’s used as an ingredient for some kind of drink. You should be able to find it in most supermarkets, although I know for sure you can get the pure powder in Carrefour. Sometimes the almond powder is mixed with sugar and thickener etc. at least if you’re going for the pre-mix that some shops sells. This can still be used, but isn’t as good, although there’s no need to add any sugar if you get this stuff. Costco also sells whole almonds that you you can blanch, peel and grate (work ok in a blender if you do small amounts at a time), but this is a bit of a hassle, although in my opinion these almonds are a bit nicer than the local kind.

So what you need is almond powder, powder sugar and an egg white. You need equal amounts of almond powder and powder sugar which is placed in a mixing bowl along with an egg white. One egg white is good for about 100-150g of each of almond and powder sugar, but you might have to add more of the dry stuff if it’s too soft. You’ve now made a batch of almond paste, which can be used for baking and making various sweets, as it’s not overly sweet in itself, but it’s not really suitable for covering cakes with, as it’s very soft and doesn’t stick together well enough to be molded in the same way as Marzipan.

To make this into Marzipan you need to add a little bit more powder sugar, in total it should be about 1/3 to 1/4 of almond powder and the rest sugar. This makes the almond paste much more moldable. This isn’t “real” Marzipan, but it’s as close as you’ll get making it at home. The real deal is made with almond oil instead of the egg white and usually apricot seeds, but I doubt that is easily available in shops here. Sorry I’m not being to specific with regards to the measurements, but it’s a little bit of a trial and error process. To get more almond flavour you can buy almond extract which is available in some supermarkets here. You’ll want to add it little by little so that the flavour doesn’t get too powerful. You can also colour this with food colouring if you intend to use it for other things.