You might want to substitute rabbit, cut into serving pieces, for the chicken thighs. This is not to suggest that rabbit tastes like chicken; on the contrary, rabbit will lend a richer, deeper flavor. If rabbit tastes to you like chicken, something’s wrong. For that matter, you might want to use both chicken thighs and rabbit, if only to demonstrate their differences. Both provide an engrossing counterpoint to the preponderant shellfish.

You should use about a 15-inch paella pan—a special low, flat saute pan with a lightly corrugated cooking surface—but you can substitute any large sauté pan. Just be sure that it’s got a tight-fitting cover, and that it’s attractive enough to bring to the table, where you ought to have a hotplate waiting.

I’m going to give fairly reliable approximations of the timings involved here, but it’s still a "seat-of-your-pants" recipe, and it should be. Variables give this dish its dimension and personality.

For the chicken marinade

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh or dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh or dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon kosher salt
droplets of Tabasco sauce

For the rest

8 plump chicken thighs, bone in, skin on,
and/or one 3 1/2 pound rabbit, cut into 8 serving pieces
1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, sliced paper-thin
11/2 cups "converted" rice (it stands up best to the variables this recipe
may present)
a good pinch of saffron
3-3 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth, preferably your own
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
1 tablespoon Pernod
2 imported bay leaves
1/2 pound garlic sausage, such as kielbasa, sliced into 1/2" pieces
and use real saucisson de l’ail, if possible, or, for a switch,
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed Spanish olives
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced
1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
2 dozen cockles, scrubbed (if you can find them; otherwise, use 1 dozen
additional littlenecks)
1 1/2 to 2 pounds medium shrimp, shelled, tail left on, if you like
3 Tablespoons rinsed capers
12-18 ripe cherry tomatoes

Pulse the marinade ingredients in a mini-processor until smooth. Pour over the chicken and/or rabbit in a roomy non-reactive bowl or a sealable huge plastic bag. Massage the marinade into the flesh, cover the bowl (or seal the bag), and refrigerate for an hour. Meanwhile, prepare all the other ingredients so that you can move evenly through the recipe’s paces.

Over medium-high heat, without crowding, brown the chicken and/or rabbit in a tablespoon of olive oil in the paella pan for 7 minutes on each side. Remove the meat to a platter and tent it with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Turn the heat down to medium. Drain all but 4 tablespoons of fat, add the other tablespoon of olive oil and onion, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic slices, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.

Add rice and saffron, and cook for 4 minutes, stirring watchfully.

Add 2 cups of the broth, the clam juice, bay leaves, and Pernod. Bring to the boil, then lower heat, cover, and simmer for 12 minutes.

Add sausage, roasted and chopped red bell pepper, and olives. Stir carefully, cover, and cook for 3 minutes.

Remove cover. If rice is dry, add 1/2 cup or so additional broth. If it seems soupy, raise the heat and boil, uncovered, for a few minutes.

Imbed clams and cockles—hinge sides down—in rice. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until the shells open. (Discard any that don’t open after 13 minutes.)

Add shrimp, chicken/rabbit, and capers. Stir gently, moving the hot rice over the shrimp until it just pinkens and everything else is heated through, 4 minutes tops.

Scatter the cherry tomatoes and capers over all. Cover and heat for 1 minute. Serve at once at the table, on a hotplate, and into warmed bowls.

Yield: 4-5 servings (6 if you used both chicken and rabbit), with probable and very welcome leftovers. (Remove clam and cockle meat from shells and discard shells to store.)

Copyright © 1999 - 2007 by Tom Steele. All rights reserved.