In Spanish cooking, a la plancha, pronounced ah-la-plahn-chah, means grilled on a metal plate. Recipes that are a la plancha are traditionally cooked on a round, flat metal plate, originated in Spain, which is considered to be the first flattop grill. A flattop grill is like a griddle but instead of having a square or rectangular shape it is round, which changes the way the heat is distributed. The circular shape allows for the heat to spread out in a radial manner and creates a very hot surface.
Plancha griddles are plated with chrome which eliminates any reactions between the food and the metal surface.
Cooking a la Plancha
Cooking food on a plancha sears the meat or fish better than any other cooking surface can, creating a browned, slightly crispy exterior while sealing in the juices, leaving the interior of the meat or fish moist, tender and juicy.
Cooking a la plancha is a rustic preparation--the seasoned surface and high heat mean the ingredients need no enhancements, allowing the flavors of the food to shine through. (So make sure you choose the freshest ingredients available.) It is also a very low-fat and healthy way to cook since you don't need any added fats to assist in the cooking process because the intense heat does all of the work. Whereas a traditional American griddle cooks at 350 F, a plancha reaches 450 F or more, making for a quick cooking time. A plancha is also much easier to clean than a grill or even pots and pans.
A la plancha is often used to cook seafood, and in Spain many times there are planchas set up right next to the docks to immediately cook up the daily catch. Meat is also a popular ingredient to cook a la plancha, and vegetables are absolutely delicious cooked this way. Whatever you choose to grill a la plancha, expect beautiful caramelization and a touch of char.
Buying a Plancha
It may be challenging to find a traditional circular plancha in the United States--what you will find are somewhat affordable square or rectangular "trays" you can place on top of your grill grates, and more expensive rectangular electric griddles. They may not radiate the heat the same way as a Spanish plancha, but they will achieve that signature high heat and do the trick.
Here is some tasty seafood a la plancha recipes to try:
- Gambas a la Plancha (Grilled Shrimp Tapas)
- Calamari a la Plancha
- Scallops a la Plancha
- Shrimp a la Plancha
Examples: Filetes a la plancha, or Grilled Beef Fillets.