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October 29, 2008 at 8:21 AM

Paella party

Maybe you’re one of those paella fans who thinks “paella?” — and immediately rushes to the phone to make reservations at Andaluca, Tango or Gaudi. But If you’re a cook who’s often wondered whether you can pull off a (near) perfect paella at home, I’m here to tell you that I recently watched my husband Mac do it, and I’ve got plenty of faith in you:

Intrigued? In today’s Seattle Times, there’s a terrific overview on the subject (thanks, Martha Holmberg!) with a “Really Good Recipe.” Mac loves rice dishes, and after our dear pal Abbie bought us an oversized casuela many years ago, he found a classic Valencian recipe for rice with duck and turnips (stop wrinkling your nose at the word “turnip” — it’s an incredible dish!) and it’s been a thrill-the-friends staple at our house ever since.

Speaking of thrilling your friends, my pal Ernie Pino makes the most amazing paella I’ve ever eaten. But then, unlike Mac (who’s of Irish/German extraction and spells his name like that very American burger) Ernie’s got the thrum of Spanish guitar coursing through his veins. Occasionally, he teaches paella-making classes, and I’ve long considered buying one for Mac as a special-ocassion gift (there are no set dates yet for 2009, but Ernesto says you can keep an eye out for upcoming classes here).

Anyway, in late August, when Mr. Rice Cooker was off in Gibraltar helping run a shipwreck salvage operation (and, not incidentally, eating lots of paella), I was keeping the home-fires burning while trying to figure out the appropriate gift for our upcoming anniversary. And then, in the two free minutes I had during his Mediterranean workation, I sat down to read the New York Times Sunday magazine and found this article with the header “Fire and Rice.” In it, Sam Sifton talked about his paella-making buddy Manny Howard, who, like my husband, has a thing for rice cookery and, not unlike Mac, has “the cooking skills of a dude-ranch Escoffier.” Manny became obsessed with the idea of cooking paella over an open fire, but settled for a Weber grill. Which, if you’ve been reading All You Can Eat for long, you know is a subject near and dear to my heart:

Sifton’s story gave me inspiration, and off to The Spanish Table I went, in search of the perfect anniversary gift: a paella pan. They’ve got stacks of them — literally. From small to gargantuan, carbon steel to stainless steel, inexpensive to not-so. And bless the sale’s guy’s heart, he tried to steer me toward the less expensive enameled version. But seeing as this was an anniversary gift, I splurged on a handsome stainless steel paellera — a 17-inch beauty that (unlike the least expensive carbon steel pans) needs no pre-seasoning, serves 10, fits in the oven and, more importantly, on the Weber. It also doubles as a handy-dandy serving tray when not being used for the job it was built to do.

When Mac came home from his lengthy sojourn — 24 hours before our anniversary date — he was thrilled with his gift (I’d also tucked in a bag of rice from The Spanish Table and Manny Howard’s recipe). The following weekend he gifted me and Nate with a personal paella party. But first he sent me out for fresh provisions and I, as I’m wont to do, took liberties with Manny’s recipe, buying chicken thighs, chorizo and clams as directed, but also opting to add mussels and squid where none was called for. (Oops! I should have also taken the liberty to suggest he add the squid at the end of the grilling time, as it was a tad tough.) Mac says next time he’s leaving the squid out and adding more saffron and a hit of Spanish paprika to up the flavor-ante. But when all was said and eaten, we were exceedingly impressed with the results:

So, had any great paella? Ever try your hand at making it at home? Want to tell me about it?

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