A la plancha is a method of cooking that originated in Spain. It involves cooking food, usually meat, fish, or vegetables, directly on a metal plate or grill called a plancha. The term “a la plancha” literally translates to “on the metal plate” in Spanish.
What is a Plancha?
A plancha is a thick, flat metal plate that is used for cooking. It is similar to a flat top grill and is usually made of cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel. Planchas provide an extremely hot and even cooking surface that produces a crusty sear on foods. They are commonly used in Spanish and Latin American cuisine.
A plancha is different than a regular grill because it has a completely flat and solid surface. Grills typically have grates or ridges for the food to sit on. The solid surface allows a plancha to get much hotter than a standard grill. It can reach temperatures upwards of 500-600°F. This high heat facilitates fast cooking and that desirable sear.
In a professional kitchen, a plancha may be built into the cooktop. In a home kitchen, it typically consists of a stand-alone plate that can be set over a burner. Planchas are also sometimes called griddles or hot plates.
The Benefits of Cooking on a Plancha
There are several benefits to cooking on a plancha versus other cooking methods:
- Better browning and searing – The high heat of the plancha gives incredible caramelization and crust development.
- Even cooking – The solid surface allows for very even exposure to the heat, preventing hot or cold spots.
- Less fat – Foods cook in their own juices instead of needing added oils or fats.
- Enhanced flavors – The searing gives foods a bold, richer flavor.
- Healthier – Less need for added fats makes it a healthier cooking method.
- Versatile – Almost any meat, seafood, veggie, flatbread can be cooked on a plancha.
- Easy cooking & clean up – Simple to operate and plates are easy to clean after.
Common Types of Planchas
There are a few common types of planchas:
- Cast iron planchas – Made of cast iron and provide excellent heat retention and distribution. They require seasoning but provide beautiful sear marks.
- Carbon steel planchas – Lightweight yet sturdy, providing quick heat up times. Also requires seasoning.
- Stainless steel planchas – Typically commercial grade planchas made from stainless steel. Require less maintenance but may not distribute heat as evenly.
- Electric planchas – Electrically heated planchas make it easy to control the temperature. Great for indoor use.
How to Cook on a Plancha
Cooking on a plancha is simple but does require some technique. Here are some tips for using a plancha:
- Heat it up – Get the plancha very hot before adding food. Usually 5-10 minutes preheating on high heat.
- Use a thin layer of oil – Brush just a thin layer of oil on the plancha to prevent sticking.
- Don’t overcrowd – Don’t overload the plancha, cook in batches if needed. Overcrowding lowers the temperature.
- Let sear – Let food sear for 1-2 minutes before attempting to flip or move it.
- Flip once – Only flip food once during cooking for the best sear.
- Adjust heat – Control the heat to prevent burning. Lower it slightly after searing.
- Let rest – Give cooked foods a chance to rest before cutting or serving.
- Clean – Clean the surface after each use to keep it seasoned and maintained.
Foods that Can Be Cooked on a Plancha
Many types of foods are well suited for cooking on a plancha. Here are some of the most common:
- Meat steaks – T-bone, ribeye, flat iron steaks
- Chicken or turkey breasts
- Pork chops and tenderloins
- Sausage and hot dogs
- Fish fillets and steaks – salmon, halibut, tuna, etc.
- Shrimp, scallops, lobster tails
- Vegetables – peppers, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, etc.
- Fruit – pineapple, peaches, apples
- Grilled sandwiches and quesadillas
- Flatbreads and tortillas
The high heat of the plancha can cook almost anything rapidly while imparting an amazing sear. Just remember that thinner cuts of meat and produce will cook faster than thick cuts.
Common Dishes Cooked a la Plancha
Certain dishes are especially popular to prepare a la plancha. Here are some typical Spanish and Latin American specialties cooked on a plancha:
- Bistec a la plancha – Steak cooked on a plancha.
- Pescado a la plancha – Fish fillets or steaks.
- Camarones a la plancha – Shrimp.
- Pollo a la plancha – Chicken breast.
- Chuletas de puerco a la plancha – Pork chops.
- Plátanos a la plancha – Sliced caramelized plantains.
- Tortillas a la plancha – Warmed corn or flour tortillas.
- Empanadas a la plancha – Crispy empanadas.
- Arepa a la plancha – Grilled corn cakes.
- Verduras a la plancha – Grilled vegetables of all kinds.
The simple, fresh flavors of ingredients cooked a la plancha really shine through. The foods take on charred, rich notes while maintaining moisture inside.
Tips for Cooking a la Plancha
Execute dishes a la plancha perfectly by following these tips:
- Pat proteins dry before cooking so they sear vs steam.
- Brush a very thin layer of oil on the plancha – Too much will cause sticking.
- Allow the plancha to fully preheat before adding food.
- Only place food on the plancha once hot. Don’t let it sit on a cold surface.
- Flip food just once during cooking for the best sear.
- If food is burning on a very hot plancha, slightly lower the heat.
- Let foods rest a few minutes before cutting into them.
It takes some practice to get the timing, heat control, and motion of the foods right. But once you become accustomed to using a plancha, it can produce incredible results.
Cleaning and Caring for Your Plancha
To keep a plancha in good cooking condition, proper care is required:
- Preheat before cleaning – Heat the surface first to loosen any stuck on bits.
- Use a scraper – A metal spatula or scraper makes cleaning easier.
- Scrub with salt – Salt acts as a gentle abrasive cleaner.
- Re-oil – Give the surface a wipe with fresh oil after cleaning.
- Avoid soap – Soap will strip the seasoning so only use when absolutely needed.
- Dry thoroughly – Always dry cast iron or carbon steel thoroughly before storing.
- Re-season as needed – If surface seems dry, re-season with an oil coating.
With regular use and proper care, a quality plancha will provide many years of delicious cooking.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
It’s easy for cooking on a plancha to go wrong. Watch out for these common mistakes:
- Not heating the surface hot enough before cooking.
- Overcrowding the plancha so temperature drops.
- Moving the food around too much preventing searing.
- Letting thick foods cook too long and burn.
- Allowing too much oil resulting in sticking and flare-ups.
- Pouring marinades over food causing them to steam not sear.
- Letting residue and debris build up on the surface after cooking.
- Forgetting to re-season cast iron or carbon steel planchas after cleaning.
With practice, you’ll learn how to adjust for these common mistakes and become a plancha pro.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between a plancha and a griddle?
A plancha and griddle are very similar – both provide flat cooking surfaces that can get very hot. The main difference is that griddles often have ridges or grooves on the surface, while planchas have a completely smooth surface.
What type of oil should be used to grease a plancha?
Any high smoke point neutral oil like canola, vegetable, avocado, or refined olive oil works well for greasing a plancha. Avoid butter or extra virgin olive oil which can burn.
Is a special type of spatula needed for a plancha?
Metal spatulas with a flat edge work best for a plancha, as they can scrape under foods. Plastic spatulas may melt from the high heat. Sturdy metal fish spatulas are ideal.
Does food need special marinades or preparation to be cooked a la plancha?
Foods generally don’t need any special marinade or preparation before cooking on a plancha. Simple salt and pepper seasoning is all that’s required to achieve delicious results.
How hot does a plancha need to be for cooking?
Most recipes call for a plancha to be heated to high, between 450-550°F before cooking. This ensures the food sears nicely without sticking. The temperature can be lowered slightly after searing.
What happens if the plancha isn’t hot enough?
If the surface isn’t hot enough before cooking, food will be more likely to stick. It also won’t achieve that crusty sear and may end up steaming instead of searing. Ensure it preheats fully before adding food.
Cooking a la plancha is a quick, healthy, and flavorful cooking technique perfected in Spanish cuisine. A plancha allows meat, seafood, and veggies to caramelize while remaining tender inside. With a well-seasoned and properly preheated plancha, you can rapidly achieve some delicious results. Just take care not to overcrowd the surface and adjust the heat as needed. In no time, you’ll be an expert at cooking authentic dishes a la plancha.