The Keay California blog Gerard's Paella Coachella Recipe Nebesky

Recipe: Coachella Paella

I wrote this quite some time ago, but never posted it on this blog. Now, I’d like to share one of my favorite dishes, harking back to my first time at Coachella, and one of the first meals I ever made with my SO.

You know how certain sounds, sights and smells sometimes take you back to an exact time and place? That’s what paella is to Coachella.

A scrumptious blend of fragrant saffron, rice, vegetables and shellfish, paella is a traditional Spanish dish that tastes as good as it looks. I wondered if the recipe for the paella they prepared at Coachella (usually located by the Do Lab stage) would happen to be floating out there…because I thought that would be a fun surprise dinner to make one day. We ended up grabbing the groceries and making it together instead, which was even better!

I did a little research and discovered that the paella served at Coachella came from a Californian chef and owner of a catering company named Gerard Nebesky (a great little article about him here). He also happens to have only ever made paella throughout the course of his professional career, which explains why he’s nailed the ultimate version of the dish we kept going back to each day on the grounds. It’s that good: his paella even beat out Bobby Flay! Although there were several versions out there, this one seemed the most similar—so we gave it a try.

The Keay California blog Gerard's Paella Coachella Recipe Nebesky

The result was…drumroll…pretty true to form! It tasted surprisingly similar to the Coachella version. In fact, that’s what inspired the intro line to this post: my SO said it felt like he was walking right into the Coachella gates when we first dug in. I was over the moon, because I’m a perfectionist when it comes to cooking for others—and this was the first meal we’d ever made together so I was especially nervous. Paella is notorious for not being the easiest dish to make, but it ended up not being too bad at all. I have to give him some (read: a lot!) of the credit for taking the reins during quite a bit of the process though—I had to deal with a broken phone and finding a way to get a hold of my mom in the middle of making dinner since it was Mother’s Day. I missed a decent chunk of the sofrito preparation step due to this—arguably the most important part of making paella, since it’s the literal base of the dish!

Anyways, without further ado, the first dish we ever made together—complemented by a fantastic cabernet sauvignon my SO picked up for the occasion. I didn’t even ask him to…or, rather, I had suggested we pick one up, but then he told me he’d already gotten one! Wine is the best surprise.

Coachella Paella

Prep Time: 20 Minutes. Cook Time: 1.5 Hours.

Recipe adapted for two. We had a hearty plate for dinner, however, and still had 2 large Tupperware boxes full of leftovers. We also made a few other alterations to the original recipe, due to personal preferences. I would also recommend adding an additional red pepper and onion if you prefer a higher ratio of veggies to rice!

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 full head of peeled garlic, with cloves detached
  • 1 red pepper (cored, seeded and sliced into strips)
  • 5 boneless chicken breasts (original recipe recommends bone-in legs and thighs, but we wanted the more fuss-free alternative)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 (16 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 20 saffron threads, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons paprika (original recipe recommends smoked)
  • 3 cups short-grain rice (uncooked, and we used a medium-grain Arborio)
  • 1 (16 oz) can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 1/4 lb green beans
  • 10-15 jumbo shrimp
  • 10 clams or mussels (Optional: eccentric seafood counter sales associate who tells you his favorite pastime is putting salt next to clams and drinking beer while you wait for it to stick its tongue out and lick the salt up)
  • 1 lemon, to add a splash of acidity at the end, and cut into wedges for garnish
  1. Heat a paella pan (or any large, flat-bottomed saute pan) over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and garlic, then fry the peppers. When cooked, remove peppers and set aside.
  2. Add chicken to the pan, turning to sear all sides. When chicken is golden, add the onions and saute until translucent.
  3. Add the tomatoes and the stock, and reduce the sofrito base down for half an hour (we started making dinner pretty late though, so we just turned the heat up a bit higher and reduced it down for closer to 15 minutes). Meanwhile, crush the saffron with a mortar and pestle (we didn’t have one, so I just chopped up the saffron finely), mix with the paprika, and add it to the stock.
  4. After the sofrito base has reduced for 15-30 minutes (depending on the level of heat you’re using), stir in the rice and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Note: Do not stir or cover the rice. As the rice cooks, add the rest of the vegetables and beans.
  5. During the final 10 minutes, poke the shrimp and shellfish into the rice mixture so that they will cook.
  6. You will know the dish is done when you can smell the smoky odour of the rice caramelizing on the bottom of the pan, and all of the liquid is absorbed by the rice.
  7. Finish with squirts of lemon and leave lemon wedges in the paella pan, or perched along the rim to serve.

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