Two dinner parties in as many days—that’s how I learned to appreciate paella. In preparation for a Spanish-themed fête, I asked to borrow my cousin Adams’ wide-brimmed copper pan and his outdoor paella grill. Despite plans to host a similar event the following day, he allowed me to use the gear.

The dueling dinners turned out to be a magic ingredient. Not only did Adams hand me his well-worn recipes (tried-and-true combinations from The Spanish Table: The Cuisines and Wines of Spain and handwritten notes jotted down by his wife, Holly), he suggested we grocery shop together.

Off we went to the Mexican behemoth Rancho Liborio on Colfax and Havana for chicken legs, packages of pork and chorizo, and bags of red peppers, garlic, tomatoes, lemons, and onions. Then, we canvassed H Mart’s Asian ingredient–stocked aisles looking for short-grain rice and squid (already cleaned, thank you!). Finally, we landed at Whole Foods for prawns, mussels, and clams.

Along the way, we talked about paella: the myriad versions, how to ensure that socarrat—the prized, caramelized crust—forms, and how, for such a niche dish, he came to own both a specialized grill and a heavy-bottomed copper pan.

It was over this dish, he told me, that he and Holly had fallen in love 25 years before. They were kids in college, studying abroad in the South of France. They discovered paella and, over the sultry essence of saffron, smoky chorizo, and red wine, they grew up and built a life. Now, several times a year, they pull out the cherished pan and, as an homage to how far they’ve come, they stir together rice, saffron, shellfish, and rich meats, until they fill the pan to the brim. Then, they share this complex marriage of simple ingredients with the friends and family who have gathered for the occasion.

Paella Shopping List

Paella pan: Sur La Table, 3000 E. First Ave., 303-780-7800,

Paella grill: La Paella,

Saffron, smoked paprika: Savory Spice Shop, multiple locations,

Short-grain rice, squid: H Mart, 2751 S. Parker Road, Aurora, 303-745-4592,

Shellfish: Whole Foods, multiple locations,

Chorizo, pork, chicken, vegetables: Rancho Liborio, multiple locations

Paella on the Town: Every Wednesday, Cafe Aion offers paella for two and a paired bottle of wine for $35. The ingredients change weekly—one week it’s braised lamb and piquillo peppers, another it’s braised chicken, rosemary, and almonds—and we’ve never been disappointed. 1235 Pennsylvania Ave., Boulder, 303-993-8131,