Paella may be the world's perfect one-pot party food. A medley of seafood, chorizo, chicken, saffron, peppers, and rice, it's impressive and sophisticated – and the kind of meal you can still manage well into your third glass of wine. "It's always a hit," says Gerard Nebesky, a California chef who, a decade ago, began cooking paella for large gatherings at wineries and festivals. "The social aspect is probably the best part."
Paella originated with rice farmers in Valencia, Spain, who used the rabbits and vegetables from their own land for the dish. Seafood was later introduced as the meal expanded along the coast. To make a great paella, all you really need, besides a bit of patience, is a large, flat-bottomed pan; some saffron; and the confidence to intentionally burn it to make the socarrat, or charred rice, at the bottom of the pan. "Dirty rice will make you a hero," says Nebesky.
Gerard's Mixed Paella
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
• 1 cascabel chili (or another chili without heat)
• kosher salt
• 6 chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)
• 8 oz chorizo
• 1 large yellow onion, diced
• 8 cloves garlic
• 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
• 4 cups chicken stock
• 30 threads saffron
• 1 tbsp smoked paprika
• 8 littleneck clams
• 2 cups short-grain white rice
• 12 jumbo head-on Gulf shrimp
• 8 oz cod, cut into 2-inch chunks
• 8 mussels
• 8 oz green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
• 1/2 cup canned chickpeas
• 2 lemons, cut into wedges
• 1/4 cup chopped parsley
Heat a 12-inch, flat-bottomed pan (it should be more than 2 inches deep) over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, red bell pepper, and chili; sauté until browned. Season with salt, and remove bell peppers.
Place the chicken in the pan, skin side down, then brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add and brown the chorizo. Add the onion and garlic; cook until translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock; bring to a boil. Crush the saffron threads and smoked paprika using a mortar and pestle, and stir into the sauce. Add the clams. Remove them as they open, about 10 minutes.
Pour the rice into the pan in an even layer, moving the chicken so it settles to the bottom. Do not stir. (Use a short- to medium-grain white rice. Longer grains tend to burn, and brown rice will not work because it has to be covered to cook.)
Nestle the shrimp, fish, mussels, green beans, and chickpeas into the rice, and bring to a simmer. Don't pile above the handle rivets – an overcrowded pan means a mushy paella. Turn the shrimp and fish over to cook thoroughly. Add the clams and bell peppers, plus the lemon wedges and parsley. Allow the rice to cook, without stirring, until all the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. If you need more liquid, add extra chicken stock. Let stand for 5 minutes, then drizzle with olive oil and serve. Serves six.