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. This device originated in Spain and is considered to be the first flattop grill.
This flattop grill is like a griddle but instead of having a square or rectangular shape, it is round. The circular shape changes the way heat is distributed by allowing it to spread out in a radial manner. The result is a very hot cooking surface.
Typically, plancha griddles are plated with chrome. This 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. It creates a browned, slightly crispy exterior while sealing in the juices. At the same time, it leaves 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. For this reason, it's best to make sure you choose the freshest ingredients available.
It is also a very low-fat and healthy way to cook. 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 higher. This reduces the cooking time required. A plancha is also much easier to clean than a grill or even pots and pans.
Best Foods to Choose
A la plancha is often used to cook seafood. It's the ideal method since seafood is often best with quick, high-heat cooking. In Spain, you can often find planchas set up right next to the docks and ready to immediately cook up the daily catch.
Here are a few simple and tasty recipes you can try:
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. Even in online stores, you're more likely to find griddles when searching for a plancha. This makes sense since plancha is Spanish for "griddle."
Most of your options include somewhat affordable square or rectangular "trays" that are placed on top of your grill grates. You'll also come across 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.
Your other option is to simply search for a "round griddle." These are easier to find in a variety of materials and price ranges. The shape should radiate heat in the same way as an authentic Spanish plancha.