Years ago my sister gave me a paella pan for my birthday, and thus began my long and difficult journey to creating a respectable version of this rice-and-the-kitchen-sink classic.  Turns out the thin-bottomed paella pan is not really that great if you don’t use a heat source that can heat the entire bottom of the pan to relatively the same temperature.  If you use it over a gas burner on a regular kitchen stove, for example, you’re going to burn in some areas while others remain pretty much uncooked. This will lead you down the ill-fated path of stirring, a no-no, if you want to achieve the coveted ‘soccarrat’ or brown crust on the bottom of your perfectly finished rice. Stirring also leads to gummy rice, which is totally unsexy. As does overfilling your pan.  You’ve also got to watch out for the wildly different cooking times of your various proteins and vegetables. No one can resist a gorgeous dish of steaming mussels, caramel brown chicken thighs, and lively green beans scattered across savory saffron rice. That is, unless your mussels are cooked to the texture of weatherstripping, your brown chicken is pink inside, and your green beans disintegrate into mush when nudged by a fork. All of these mistakes are possible. Indeed, I’ve managed to make them all at the same time. Pity my poor dinner guests.

But, not one to back down from a fight, I went back to the kitchen and studied my quarry.  I took notes, read manifestos, and when I ordered paella at a restaurant, no doubt I incurred askance looks from nearby tables at the way I poked, prodded, and consumed the dish like it was a scientific experiment.

And finally, at long last, I brought forth a true paella, and much like Yoda raising the X-wing from the swamp, I could feel the force flowing through me.  Here’s the process, from grill to table, in pictures:

My outdoor cooking station: a charcoal grill and a patio table holding my saffron broth, olive oil, sofrito, green beans, Arborio rice, water for temperature control, and of course a bottle of Anchor Steam beer for me.

Paprika seasoned chicken thighs and artisan sausages sizzling away. I quickly realized that these guys were taking too much room for me to cook the rest of the paella, so I browned them in the pan and then took them off and finished them in the oven.

The sofrito – shallots, garlic, tomatoes, and parsley – cooking in the rendered chicken and pork fat.

Arborio rice and sofrito simmering in saffron-infused chicken stock.

Mussels, jumbo shrimp, and clams, brought in from San Francisco for the occasion!

Strips of red bell pepper added to keep the green beans company.

Chicken and sausages piled back on.

Finally on the table, with a dish of Spanish green olives and lots of white wine! ¡Que aproveche!

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