Gerard's Paella (that beat Bobby Flay!)

If there’s a Prince of Paella, it’s Gerard Nebesky, who prevailed against star chef Bobby Flay in a televised paella throwdown in 2008.
Photography By Eric Zepeda | September 01, 2014


Yield: 6–9 main-course servings

Heat a 12-inch paella pan or other heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, red bell pepper and dried chili and sauté until lightly browned. Season with salt and remove everything but the chili from pan.

Place the chicken in the same pan, skin side down, and brown thoroughly on all sides, about 8–10 minutes. Add onions and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 12 minutes.

Add the diced tomatoes and cook until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Crush the saffron threads and smoked paprika with a mortar and pestle, then stir into the sauce.

Add the clams, then remove each of them as they open, about 5–10 minutes.

Pour the rice evenly into the pan and let it settle to the bottom. Do not stir. Nestle the shrimp, mussels, green beans and chickpeas into the paella. Adjust the heat to maintain a brisk simmer.

Watch the shrimp and turn them over as they reach a pink color, to cook them thoroughly. Arrange the bell peppers and rockfish on top. Add lemon wedges and parsley.

Allow the rice to cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 20–30 minutes. If the liquid is absorbed before the rice is fully done, add more hot chicken stock. The finishedrice should not be mushy.

Let the paella stand for five minutes, then drizzle with olive oil. Serve and enjoy.

About this recipe


Paella is one of those Holy Grail dishes that top chefs and home cooks aspire to make authentically, a seemingly complicated dish that’s prone to disaster. Relax. Here, Gerard shares five tips to help you have a smash in the pan.

  • The “paella police” insist on cooking over a wood fire, but you can cook indoors on the stove,outdoors on a grill, even in the oven. What’s most important is that you use a shallow, flat-bottomed pan. This will allow the juices to steamaway without making the rice gloppy.
  • You may substitute many ingredients (chicken for rabbit, green beans for peas, crab for lobster), but don’t stray from a medium- to short-grain rice. Spaniards are very loyal to Bomba, but for me the Calrose rice grown in California rivals Bomba both in flavor and texture and costs way less. Basmati, jasmine, or any long-grain rice will not work. All will burn instead of easing into a wonderful socarrat on the bottom of the pan. Brown rice will not work either, because it has to be covered to cook and that’s taboo in the world of paella.
  • The most common cause of mediocre paella is filling the pan with too many ingredients and too much rice. Overly laden paellas will be mushy by the time the rice on top is cooked, and the flavor will be pale. My rule of thumb: Never go above the handle rivets on the inside of the pan.
  • For many Spaniards and paella aficionados, the socarrat is as important as the saffron. This is the crusty blackened rice on the bottom of the pan—for many, the equivalent of turkey skin. It is achieved by not stirring the pan and waiting patiently until the liquid is gone, the rice is cooked on top, and the socarrat has formed on the bottom.
  • People mistakenly associate paella with jambalaya or rice dishes from Mexico and think it needs to be spicy. Paella is not a spicy dish. It’s a Pinot Noir, not a big zesty Zinfandel. People asked us for hot sauce at big events until finally we put it out. You can slosh on the Scovilles, but resist the temptation—and you’ll better enjoy the subtle medley of flavors that paella has to offer.

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Gerard Nebesky, America's Pied Piper of Paella

Gerard Nebesky, chef and former owner of the Bohemian Café in Occidental, has essentially cooked only one dish professionally for the last decade: paella, the beloved Spanish rice creation that varies...


  • ½ cup olive oil (plus additional for serving)
  • 1 red bell pepper (cut into ½-inch-wide strips)
  • 1 dried nora or cascabel chili
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 chicken thighs (bone in and skin on)
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1 large yellow onion (diced)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 25 to 30 saffron threads
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 6-10 Littleneck clams
  • 2 cups medium-grain rice
  • 6 jumbo head-on shrimp
  • 6–8 mussels
  • 8 ounces green beans (cut into 2-inch pieces)
  • ½ cup canned chickpeas, drained
  • 8 ounces rockfish (cut into 2-inch chunks)
  • 2 Meyer lemons, cut into wedges
  • ¼ cup parsley, minced
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