Soon after returning from a visit to Spain in the Spring of 1994 I began my trials and tribulations of attempting to cook the perfect Paella dish. Here we are some 15 years later and even though I think I make a seriously good Paella, I am still trying to master this famous Spanish meal. This past Saturday I learned interesting tips and tricks from one of the best-known Paella celebrities around, chef Gerard Nebesky. Every weekend, he and his crew cook up huge Paella dishes for events throughout Sonoma and Napa Counties and even beyond. Gerard was cooking at the annual Vendemmia party at Montemaggiore Winery in the Dry Creek Valley and I was lucky to be one of the invited guests. Lise and Vince Ciolino, owners of Montemaggiore, had about 120 guests at their home to celebrate the harvest with their wines and Gerard’s delicious Paella.
Gerard has been cooking Paella for large crowds for the past eight years. He learned the tricks of the trade while living in Spain in Valencia. He has prepared Paella countless times and even once at 21,000 feet atop Argentina’s Aconcagua Mountain. I along with few others carefully watched Gerald prepare his Paella. He was eager to answer all our questions and held nothing back. From watching and listening to Gerard, here are the things that I learned and will try with my next Paella.
In the pan, Gerard pours in the olive oil and then tosses in whole heads of garlic and Nora dried chiles. Nora chiles are from Spain and have little heat to them. I have used them to make Romesco sauce but never for Paella. He takes out the garlic and Nora at the end. Chicken is usually used with seafood Paella and Gerard uses bone-in chicken thighs with the skin and sautes the chicken starting with the skin side down. Next comes the onion chopped in one inch pieces. When tomatoes are not in season he uses cans of chopped tomatos with all the juices. I usually heat up my chicken broth with the saffron but Gerard adds the broth right out of the can and then adds the saffron and smoked paprika to the broth. When the broth has some good simmering to it, he adds the rice and pushes the rice to the bottom of the pan. After the rice begins to get soupy, he adds cubes of rock fish about 2 inches thick, then the clams, mussels and shrimp. For his final trick, he squeezes Meyer lemon juice from half lemon slices in the pan and then adds the lemon slices to the pan.
Video of Gerard on making a Paella
I have my own Paella recipe and it is based on the recipe I found at the Spanish Table web site. The Spanish Table in Berkeley is where I shop for all the hard-to-get ingredients for Paella. In a future blog post, I will tell you of my quest to buy an outdoor Paella burner like the one Gerard uses, except that I wanted one that uses natural gas instead of Propane.