Mastering Paella on the Coast of Maine

The Power of Paella


Paella. We've all heard of it, and we've all probably eaten it, perhaps in a fancy Spanish restaurant where the dishes are passable if watered-down versions of their original incarnations, and the ricey paella concoction arrives at the table slightly gloppy yet decently yummy after an interminably long wait.

A few summers ago, I stumbled upon the revelation that this is not the way to enjoy paella. No, no, no. Paella is not a food that can be restricted to the confines of a hush-toned restaurant. Paella is wild, unfettered, astoundingly fulsome. It is a bounteous, raucous feast, not a primly composed and daintily consumed dinner.

My first encounter with this side of paella's true nature occurred by accident. Memorial Day weekend was almost upon us, we had no specific plans, but we did have a big Brooklyn backyard, a Weber grill and loads of friends willing to come over to eat whatever we whipped up. Someone suggested cooking paella over the coal-fired grill. I'd never heard such craziness. I was immediately smitten. I've never met a cooking challenge I could resist.

I scoured New York City posthaste for a giant paella pan, then with that secured, set to work cobbling together a recipe. Since this was going to be my first crack at making paella let alone making it over a live fire, for a throng of people, with no party-food backup plan I was hoping to find a recipe that was a foolproof silver bullet, but one timid Google search was all it took to understand that this would not be the case. Paella lovers, it turns out, are fiercely passionate about their personal versions, and paella recipes are like thumbprints: Every single one is different.

But the basic method of preparation is roughly the same, so after absorbing scads of recipes I emerged with what seemed like a fairly reasonable ingredients list and a fairly decent approach.

I shopped and prepped over the next few days, sourcing bomba rice and saffron and chicken thighs, chopping peppers and onions and chorizo, stashing it all in my fridge and cupboards in anticipation of the big event. Memorial Day dawned. We fired up the grill. The backyard flooded with party guests. I hauled my many bowls full of prepped ingredients, the enormous paella pan, a bottle of olive oil and a pair of tongs out to the grill.

And that's when it hit me: Paella is the ultimate al fresco party food. It's a complex, one-dish meal that can feed an entire crowd and also functions as the center of the action. Everyone loves watching it come together and wants to participate; cooking it is close to the simplest thing in the world; it's infinitely malleable once you wrap your head around the basic cooking process; and pretty much all the heavy lifting is done in advance, with the prep work. OK, you'll have loads of little bowls scattered about once you pour in your peas and chicken stock and garlic, but dealing with those is what happily tipsy post-party cleanup is all about. That first paella was an enormous hit. The only thing to do next was take my new perfect-party-food theory out on the road.

Every August I'm fortunate enough to spend a few blissful days with some of life's best friends in a magical spot on the Maine coast. Jen, Brad, Joy and Doug are a carpe-diem crew game for pretty much any adventure, so I knew they'd be ideal paella partners in crime. That first summer, we giddily collected mussels from the rocks just outside our door, procured freshest-of-the-fresh lobsters from the fisherman neighbor, and stoked the seaside logwood fire until the coals were primed for the paella pan. Swept up in the romance of our beach heathens moment, I had the genius idea to use seawater in place of stock for cooking the rice. The results were mouth-puckeringly salty and inedible, but my friends immediately understood paella's deep, liberating fun.

We worked on our paella game every subsequent August. One year I didn't clean the mussels well enough and the whole dish was sandy. Another year, while lifting the groaning pan off the grill, I almost fell into the fire. But finally we decided that we were well-versed enough in the whole festive madness to invite others to partake.

And invite we did. This group does nothing in half measure. Jen spread the word to a merry band of local friends that swelled to a couple of dozen. Brad hunted down two Mack truck wheel-size pans. Joy helped me chop and chop and chop in preparation. Doug made sure all our wine glasses stayed full. Mid-afternoon on the day of the big shindig, Brad built two fire pits on the beach and topped them with grills. Jen set the most gorgeous, low-slung rambling duneside table. I lugged the pans to their stations. Joy helped me corral all the copious prep. The twin huge paellas went off without a hitch. The setting sun cast its golden glow as everyone feasted, convivial, bubbly, sated. Paella theory, proven.


2 tablespoons saffron

6 pounds chicken thighs

6 pounds mussels or clams or combo

6 or so cups olive oil

2 pounds chorizo, cut into chunks

3 tablespoons smoked paprika

2 heads garlic, diced or minced (basically, cloves chopped however you want)

10 tomatoes, grated on a box grater

6 onions, sliced or diced, your call

20 cups chicken stock or broth **water can be used instead of or in addition to stock/broth

18 cups rice: arborio or calasparra or bomba (the rice is important!)1 package frozen peas6 red peppers, diced or sliced fresh flat-leaf parsley to chop up and sprinkle over top before serving lemons, sliced into quarters, for each person to squeeze over their portion before eatingAdd salt as needed

1. Heat stock/broth, infuse it with the saffron, keep warm.

2. Preheat the olive oil in the pan until it shimmers.

3. Brown chicken thighs on all sides in the pan, about 4 minutes per side, and then remove from pan.

4. Cook chorizo chunks in pan until they're getting crispy but not burned, and then remove from pan.

5. Saute onions and garlic in pan, then add peppers and tomato and keep sauteing, cooking it down. Deglaze pan with 6 cups stock/broth or wine, scraping up the nice browned bits on the bottom of the pan and letting the whole veg/liquid mixture cook down a bit more.

6. Then add all the rice. Stir it to coat the rice and then DO NOT STIR THE RICE AGAIN!

7. Cook for about 4 minutes, then nestle the chicken thighs into the rice throughout the pan.

8. Continue cooking until nearly all the stock/ broth has evaporated. Then add 3 more cups stock/broth.

9. Cook down until almost all the stock/broth has evaporated. Then add 3 more cups.

10. At this point, start tasting the rice for doneness.

11. Add the chorizo and peas, and if you're doing shellfish, add it hinge-side down, so they can open up.

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Rum, Reggae & Spies!
The beach at Fleming Villa | Source GoldenEye

In my quest for the best Caribbean Rum, I’ve sampled a few. From Appleton to Ron Zacapa rum, my tastebuds have celebrated the luscious flavors borne from fermenting sugarcane into smooth amber elixirs.

In the pursuit of rum perfection, I’ve noticed that a well-designed label can give clues about what awaits inside the bottle. Many simply present the distiller’s name and location where a rum derives its unique flavors. But it’s hard to resist the image of a crusty old captain, pirate ship or sassy sea wench when pouring a hefty splash into a tumbler.

Curious rum aficionados like myself are always eager to hear the back story behind the libation in our hand. Like a slice of pineapple or lime wedged upon the rim of a glass, the history of a rum’s journey from the Caribbean to our lips can make a cocktail taste even sweeter.

I recently stumbled upon the extraordinary tale that intertwines Jamaican rum, world- class musicians and James Bond. To fully appreciate this unique saga, follow my lead and shake up a GoldenEye Cocktail (see recipe below) to sip while the story unfolds.


James Bond Dr No Poster Credit Flickr

Our story begins in 1939, when a London journalist named Ian Fleming joined the British Navy Intelligence Service. His unit specialized in military espionage and covert plans to thwart German aggression in Europe and the Caribbean.

During World War II, Fleming was engaged in Operation GoldenEye, and in 1942 he was sent to investigate suspicions about Nazi submarines in the Caribbean. During this deployment, he became enamored with Jamaica and vowed to live there some day.

When the war was over, Fleming returned to Jamaica and bought 15 acres of plush land that was once used as a donkey racetrack. In 1945, he built a house not far from the banana port town of Oracabessa Bay, and the seaside property became Fleming’s tropical sanctuary where he could focus on writing and the discrete task of taking previously tight-held secrets into a public, fictional genre.

He named the estate GoldenEye as a tribute to his Navy service and began working on a book that evolved around the dashing spy and Special Agent 007, James Bond. This protagonist would emerge as the amalgamation of agents he’d met during his maritime service. As an avid birdwatcher, Fleming took the name for his lead character from American ornithologist James Bond, an expert on Caribbean birds, who wrote the definitive field guide, Birds of the West Indies.

Fleming’s first spy novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1952. This book and all 13 in the James Bond series were written in his bedroom at GoldenEye. Three of them — Dr. No, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun — take place in Jamaica.


Chris Blackwell | Credit GoldenEye

Not only did the breezy island life at GoldenEye inspire Fleming’s novels, but so did his fetching neighbor, Blanche Blackwell. She was the muse who helped spark his creative drive. The Blackwell family had lived in Jamaica since 1625, exporting bananas and coconuts and crafting a distinctive brand of rum.

Blanche’s son Chris Blackwell grew up between England and Jamaica, and in his childhood spent a good amount of time with Fleming. In 1954, after Blackwell got booted from an elite British school for rebellious behavior, he came back to the island to get involved in the family rum business. Contrary to plan, he followed his instincts and made a career choice that would dramatically alter the global music scene.

For a while, he kicked around working as the aide-de-camp to the governor and as a waterskiing instructor. But after hearing the blind pianist Lance Heywood play at the Half Moon Resort, Blackwell recorded the musician, and in 1959 he launched a music studio called Island Records. In sync with his unconventional style, it became known for discovering and nurturing innovative performers who had been shrugged off or overlooked by bigger record labels.

Island Records introduced the world outside of the Caribbean to Bob Marley and the Wailers and Jamaican reggae music, showcasing island culture and universal struggles of indigenous people. It launched British bands such as Traffic, Bad Company, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Roxy Music, King Crimson and Fairport Convention. It also cultivated artists such as Cat Stevens, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Waits and the Irish band, U2.

Throughout his success in the music industry, Blackwell remained in contact with Fleming and his projects. When the first Bond movie, Dr. No, was filmed in Jamaica in 1962, Blackwell was hired as a location scout and consulted on the soundtrack. Sir Sean Connery, whom Blackwell had met during the filming of Dr. No, remained a friend until his passing in 2020. Using a family recipe, Blackwell launched his boutique rum in 2008 that is distributed around the globe.

Live and Let Die was filmed in 1973 on the Blackwell Estate, which now includes The Fleming Villa. Scenes from the movie were shot near GoldenEye, Blackwell’s luxury hotel in Jamaica. The latest Bond flick, No Time to Die, returns to the exquisite Jamaican backdrop of GoldenEye, and the production team was treated to a supply of Blackwell Rum for inspiration while filming.

TO CELEBRATE 60 YEARS OF JAMES BOND, a special bottle of Blackwell Rum has been released, along with a new memoir by Chris Blackwell, The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond. If you’re cruising around Jamaica this winter, cue up some Bob Marley tunes, open a bottle of Blackwell’s 007 Rum, and shake it (don’t stir) with pineapple juice and ice to create the GoldenEye Cocktail. And if you’re nestled in at home in a colder climate and dreaming about the Caribbean, we suggest watching a Bond flick and warming up with the Toasted Toddy.

GoldenEye | Credit GoldenEye



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-Lime or pineapple wedge


Shake together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime or pineapple wedge

Toasty Toddy | Credit GoldenEye



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-2 teaspoons brown sugar

-1 1⁄2 parts fresh lemon juice

-6 parts boiling water


Add all ingredients to a mug, except for the water. Pour in the boiling water, Stir well to blend

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Christmas Morning Punch | Credit Kozak-Salo, Getty Images

Christmas Morning Punch

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Fall Cocktail | Source Veselova Elena from Getty Images

The Captain Cider


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Hot apple cider in a glass cup on a tree stump
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