Meet DC’s Newest Michelin-Starred Chef, And His Secret Paella Recipe
Danny Lledó’s take on Spain's most iconic dish is a killer addition to your at-home repertoire
Danny Lledó shares the flavors of his Spanish heritage every day with diners at Glover Park’s newly Michelin starred Xiquet. Here, the menu regularly features exquisite seafood, Iberian pork, and a “xocolate” bomb sure to woo any chocoholic. His tasting menu is laudable, and both this and his à la carte choices make excellent use of the restaurant’s wood-burning fire: a centerpiece of the glass-walled kitchen in clear view of guests.
But Lledó’s star dish is undoubtedly his paella. He is currently the most-awarded paella chef in the U.S., with seven honors for his iterations of the Valencian rice specialty, including six first place awards in international competitions. He was even a finalist at the prestigious Paella Valenciana de Sueca in 2018.
“My culture and my family really influenced my decision to focus on Valencian cuisine,” he explains. “Spending part of my life in Dénia, Spain, I had the opportunity to witness how food brings people together. So many of my family and friends were involved in different parts of the food industry. My uncle had a commercial fishing boat, a few of my aunts had farms, and close friends of mine had restaurants that bought fish, meats and vegetables from my family. It was a cool and unique thing to be able to see the whole process come together like that, so I knew I wanted to incorporate that special experience into my restaurant. “
Following in the footsteps of his father, a chef in the coastal city of Dénia, halfway between Valencia and Alicante, Lledó honed his skills working at José Andrés’s Taberna del Alabardero and Botin. He only opened Xiquet in March 2020, above his Slate Wine Bar. Much of the restaurant’s short life, then, has been defined by the pandemic. But Lledó didn’t let that stop him from building a restaurant whose appeal lies in its specificity.
“People enjoy and appreciate Spanish cuisine here in DC,” he says, “but because there are so many celebrated Spanish restaurants, this allowed me to be more regional and really dive into the gastronomy of a very specific region instead of trying to cover the whole country.”
His seafood paella exemplifies both Valencian cuisine at large and Lledó’s own detail-oriented approach to this specialty so steeped in memory. “Paella is definitely a nostalgic, childhood dish for me,” he says. “When I think of the memories that paella brings me to, I think of beautiful Sunday afternoons in Dénia with my family.”
The secret to success when making this paella at home, according to Lledó, is in the broth.
“At Xiquet DL, we make different broths every day, depending on the paellas we have on the menu,” he says. To opt for store-bought is a major newbie mistake. “Making the broth is where 60 to 80 percent of the flavors come from,” he says, so be sure that you’re making your own.
For this recipe, you’re relying on a seafood broth, which you can make by simmering shrimp and lobster shells for about 30 minutes with aromatics like onion, celery, carrot and bay. Roast the shells in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes before beginning for extra flavor.
Lledó recommends seeking out the freshest seafood you can find at your local seafood counter or purveyor, noting that “fresh seafood will make all the difference.” And while you’re shopping, you might keep an eye out for Lledó’s rice of choice, sénia, which, he notes “absorbs the flavors better.” The bomba rice he calls for in the recipe below, he says, “is a great alternative for home cooks, because it is much more forgiving if overcooked.”
One last tip? Pay careful attention to cooking times.
“If done properly, you can create this rich caramelization of the paella — the socarrat,” he says. This flavorful crust at the bottom of the pan is the most sought-after bite of the entire dish.
Danny Lledó’s Seafood Paella
- 25 ml (1⅔ tablespoon) olive oil
- 2 large prawns
- 2 baby cuttlefish
- Sea salt, to taste (1 to 3 grams)
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 roma tomato, puréed
- ½ tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 fillet dorade (bream)
- 480 ml (2 cups) seafood broth
- ¼ gram (⅓ teaspoon) saffron
- 160 grams (⅘ cup) bomba rice
Add half the olive oil to a paella pan or 10-inch skillet set over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the prawn (shell on), and season with salt. Sear the prawn evenly on both sides, until the juices of the prawn are extracted: you will see this through a browning of the olive oil (approximately 2 minutes on each side). Remove the prawns from the pan and set aside. Sauté the cuttlefish in the same way, and set aside.
Increase the heat to medium-high. To make the sofrito, mix the tomato puree, garlic, and sweet paprika in the pan. Deglaze with seafood broth. Add the saffron and mix to combine. Increase the heat to high.
Once the broth begins to boil, add the bomba rice, sprinkling it evenly over the pan. Season to taste with salt, and cook on high until the rice is visible in the broth. At this point, reduce the heat to low.
Add the seared prawn, cuttlefish, and dorade on top of the rice; the steam will cook the dorade. Simmer until the broth has completely evaporated, then increase the heat to high for approximately a minute to create the socarrat, the flavorful crust on the bottom of the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat and serve.
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