Food & Drink

The Art of Paella

The Atlanta chef John Castellucci shares his recipe and tips for the traditional Spanish dish

Photo: Courtesy of Iberian Pig

John Castellucci was drawn to paella early in his career. While cooking at the Michelin-starred Restaurante Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain, the culture and beauty of the ancient seaside city mesmerized him, as did one of the country’s most beloved dishes. “I found myself cooking it all the time,” he says. “I fell in love with the art of paella.” 

Now at his Atlanta restaurant the Iberian Pig (Castellucci has previously worked in the kitchens at Cooks & Soldiers and Bar Mercado, two Spanish concepts also owned and run by his family’s restaurant group), he has refined his paella recipe, beginning with the stock. “I like to start the stock the day before,” he says. “We have this great shrimp dish on the menu—gambas al ajillo—and we save the shrimp shells as we make it. I put a lot of tomato paste in, almost like gumbo, and build flour into the stock.” For home cooks with a little less time, he recommends using a paella bouillon cube, and ready-made stocks are also available. “And if you don’t have a paella pan, I’ve found a Rondo pan works, too,” he says. “But always use a wooden spoon. A metal spoon can scratch the pan and the rubber spatula doesn’t pull up the rice the way you want it to.” 

But perhaps Castellucci’s biggest tip: perseverance. “You’re slowly building flavors through the process and each phase is equally important,” he says. “The whole thing happens in one pan, and it takes patience and a love for the product.”  


  • Paella (Serves 6-8)

    • ¼ lb. cleaned chicken thighs, diced large

    • ¼ lb. 10/20 size royal red shrimp

    • ¼ lb. fresh chorizo

    • 12–15 mussels

    • 2 tbsp. sofrito

    • 1 cup medium red bell peppers, diced

    • 1 cup medium yellow onion, diced

    • ¼ cup English peas

    • ¼ cup roasted tomatoes

    • 2 tbsp. minced garlic

    • 2 tbsp. blended oil

    • 1 pinch saffron (threads preferred)

    • 2 cups bomba rice

    • ½ cup white wine

    • 4½ cups shellfish stock

    • ⅛ cup pimentón dulce (a mild, sweet paprika)

    • Pimentón picante to taste (a spicy paprika)

    • Salt to taste

    • 3 lemons (1 zested, 2 cut into wedges for garnish)

    • ¼ cup chopped parsley


  1. Sear proteins, except mussels, in the paella pan separately and cook ¾ of the way (it should take about 1–2 minutes for shrimp, 3–4 minutes for chicken, and 2–3 minutes for chorizo). Do not cook the mussels until the end. Set aside.

  2. In the same pan on low heat, add sofrito, peppers, onions, peas, tomatoes, and garlic, and 2 tbsp. of blended oil, just enough to sweat the vegetables. Once the onions and peppers begin to look translucent, add saffron. 

  3. Add bomba rice and cook over low heat until translucent. This should only take 2–3 minutes. Add the white wine and let it reduce ¾ of the way, or about 3–4 minutes.

  4. In a small pot on the side, heat up shellfish stock over medium heat. Season the shellfish stock with the pimenton dulce, pimenton picante, and salt. The stock should be seasoned aggressively and slightly saltier than you want the finished product. Add hot shellfish stock to the paella pan.

  5. Once the stock reaches a boil in the paella pan, lower heat to a simmer and taste the paella. This is your last chance to adjust the seasoning. Set a 15-minute timer. Make sure the rice is one even layer on the paella pan and do not stir. Leave uncovered.  

  6. When there is 5 minutes left on the timer, add mussels and cover with foil. When the mussels begin to open, add the rest of the protein to finish cooking.

  7. Once the timer is done, increase heat to form a socarrat, or a crispy layer of rice on the bottom of the pan. 

  8. Remove from heat and allow to rest 3 minutes before checking crispiness of the rice. Zest lemon over the top and add parsley to garnish. Serve alongside lemon wedges.