The word “plancha” is Spanish for “metal plate.” From a culinary perspective, this large flat surface, often cast iron, heats up to a blazing 450 degrees. While that might not sound all that exciting on paper, in practice it’s miraculous. The intense, even heat allows for quick cooking and a uniform sear across the food’s entire surface. This creates a crust teeming with flavors of char and caramel while leaving the interior moist and perfectly cooked. In the countries where it’s most popular–Spain, Mexico and France’s Basque Country–plancha is not just a cooking surface, but a cuisine all on its own.
My first experience with the plancha happened while visiting my mother in Miami. She took me downtown to a trendy restaurant called Quinto la Huella, a stateside outpost of a popular seaside restaurant in Uruguay. We ordered a wide variety of small plates, but the one that stuck out was Pulpo a la Plancha: thick slices of octopus that had been brutally seared, giving them an almost burnt crust, while the insides were impossibly tender. Served with papas confitadas y pimentón–buttery confit potatoes and smoky Spanish paprika–the dish was a master class of juxtaposition, where one of the most dominant flavors came not from the ingredients but from the cooking surface.
Anything can be cooked a la plancha for a dish that’s both simple and extraordinary: proteins, vegetables, even fruits and flatbreads. While satisfying on their own, in Spain they pair these foods with sauces that both complement and amplify the char. My personal favorite is romesco: a Catalonian sauce that’s a puree of roasted red peppers, tomatoes and Marcona almonds, spiced up with garlic, spicy pepper, paprika and a generous splash of sherry vinegar. The complexity is smoky, spicy, and acidic, with a rich butteriness from the high-fat almonds. Simple to prepare yet extraordinarily complex, sauces of this nature add a whole new dimension to foods a la plancha. Other plancha sauces include adobo negro and mojo verde, and espellette pepper is a common accompaniment to plancha meats.
Plancha can be easily adapted to chain restaurants by placing cast iron on top of the grill. This would allow the restaurants to call out “a la plancha” without having to add any extra equipment. Many diners already utilize flattop grills, which is essentially a plancha, if you think about it.
Packaged food companies can infuse the idea of plancha by adding a char flavor to products to reminisce the hard sear that planchas create, adding another level of culinary complexity to ready-made consumer products. Adding the delicious sauces from this cuisine to sandwiches and meals can also develop new at-home taste experiences for consumers. The indulgent flavors of char and complex sauces can also inspire new snack trends, from chips and dips to savory meal-replacement bars.
We are up for any food challenge, and always looking for a chance to flex our culinary skills and to talk about the global flavors of the future. Partner with McCormick’s culinary team today so we can work together to bring the emerging plancha trend to life in your portfolio. New to McCormick Flavor Solutions? Contact us today.