Gambas: What are they? And what is the best way to cook them?

From peeling, frying to grilling them

Gambas, a versatile ingredient that is delicious in paella, oriental dishes or pasta dishes. Many people also like them, simply cooked in the pan with a little garlic. A simple but popular dish that you can also find on almost every tapas menu.

Worldwide there is still confusion about the terms prawn and scampi. But what exactly are prawns or gambas? Read on to learn more about this animal.

Table of contents

Chapter 1

What are gambas?

The gamba is a commonly used name for a large group of tropical giant seawater prawn. You can also encounter the gamba under a different name, with tiger prawn (black tiger prawn) being the best known.

Gambas have a gray color with black stripes on the back. They live on a sandy bottom in which they can burrow to protect themselves from predators. They can grow up to 30 cm in length and live for up to two years. Gambas mainly eat small crustaceans and shellfish.

Gambas spawn in coastal waters and move to deeper waters as the young mature. A female can lay up to 800,000 eggs. Enough larvae survive from this to form a new shrimp stock.

Gambas are crustaceans and are therefore not officially fish.

Where do gambas come from?

Gambas are found in both salt and fresh water in the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf to India, Southeast Asia, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coasts of Central America, South America and West Africa.

Gambas are caught at a depth of approximately 300 meters using trawlers. Because they reproduce quickly, the stock remains at a good level.

Most large prawns that you can buy in the shops are Asian farmed shrimps. In Thailand and Vietnam, they are grown in large freshwater basins. A growth cycle lasts four to six months, by which time they have reached a length of 2 to 28 cm. A pond produces tons per hectare per year.

What is the difference between shrimps, gambas and scampi?

The confusion over the different terms for shrimp comes from the differences in language.

In Italy they call our langoustine, a type of lobster similar to shrimp, a “scampo”. The plural is “scampi”. By scampi, however, we mean the larger shrimp, not the lobsters. In Belgium, unpeeled tails of king prawns are called “scampi”.

In the Netherlands, gamba refers to the large warm water shrimp. The main difference is that gambas belong to the shrimp family and scampi are not actually shrimps, but a lobster species.

Are gambas healthy?

Gambas are packed with vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants protect the skin against aging. The zinc and copper in prawns ensure renewal of hair and skin cells and prevent hair loss.

Because they contain no carbohydrates, prawns fit very well in a diet for people who want to lose weight.

The iodine contained in the prawns has a positive effect on the functioning of the thyroid gland. The thyroid regulates, among other things, the rate at which the body uses energy at rest.

Gambas are rich in selenium. Selenium helps protect the body against harmful effects of free radicals.

Because prawns are rich in calcium, they contribute to the health of our teeth and bones.

They are also full of protein. Proteins are the building blocks for the body. The body not only needs proteins to stay healthy, but also to repair damage from injuries, for example.

Gambas are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids that protect us against cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure.

Which wine pairs well with gambas?

Gambas can be combined well with a fresh white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are also excellent options.

Chapter 2

How to cook gambas?

Gambas have a sweet taste and a meaty texture. They are ideal for cooking, baking, stir-frying or grilling on the barbecue. Gambas do not need to be heated for a long time, otherwise they will become dry. Raw prawns are cooked in almost boiling water or in fish stock for 3 to 4 minutes.

Always pat the prawns dry before cooking them. If they are still moist, you can’t sear them quickly. This way they will not caramelize and before all that water in the pan has evaporated, they will be tough and not tender inside.

Do not put too many prawns in the pan at the same time, otherwise they will steam. You will also not get a nice golden-brown outside. If you’re cooking a lot of prawns, fry them in batches or put several pans on the stove.


The easiest way to peel gambas is to simply do it with your hands.

  • Bend the head towards the tail and pull it off.
  • Now bend the tail and also pull it away from the gamba.
  • Then remove the legs.
  • This way you can easily remove the shield from the back.

You can also peel the prawns with a knife and fork. This way you can keep your hands clean.

  • Cut the head off the shrimp with a knife.
  • Remove the top half of the shell by holding the prawn with your fork just above the tail and loosening the shell with your knife.
  • Then you can remove the shield from the lower back with your knife.
  • Afterward, you pull the tail off with your fork.
  • Now all you have to do is loosen the legs with your knife.

The dark string that you see in the prawn is the intestinal tract in which some mud and sand can sit. Remove this.


Make a delicious fresh marinade of olive oil, fresh chopped parsley, lemon juice, chopped garlic, a little tomato paste, oregano, salt and black pepper.

It is best to marinate prawns for at least 30 minutes, but you can also let them soak for a few hours. It is very handy to put the marinade together with the prawns in a plastic push and seal bag. Mix it up a bit and then put the bag in the fridge.

In a pan

Gambas are fried at a medium temperature.

  1. Put some olive oil in a pan.
  2. Do not set the fire too high, otherwise the prawns will become too tough or too dry.
  3. Fry the prawns until the color has changed from gray to orange and, if necessary, season them with garlic, salt and pepper.
  4. You can also marinate the prawns first.

In the oven

If you want to cook gambas in the oven, do this at a medium temperature.

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Place some baking paper on a baking tray.
  3. Now place the shrimp on their sides but neatly in rows on the baking tray, depending on the amount you can place them closer to each other or further apart.
  4. Now drizzle the marinade over the prawns.
  5. Let the shrimp cook for 10 to 14 minutes. This time depends on the type of oven and the size of the gambas.

On the barbecue

You can grill prawns on the barbecue at a medium temperature.

  1. Make sure the barbecue has reached a temperature of approximately 180°C.
  2. Remove the gambas from the refrigerator and thread them onto skewers.
  3. Coat them with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  4. Grill the skewers for 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
  5. The prawns are ready when they are bright pink and the flesh is opaque white.

In the wok

Stir-frying can be done in heated oil and at a high temperature.

  1. Heat a little oil in a stir-fry pan.
  2. Stir-fry some fresh vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, peppers or carrots.
  3. When the vegetables are crispy, add the shrimp and a wok sauce.
  4. Stir-fry all the ingredients for about 3 minutes.