Sunday, July 20, 2014


Vegetables grilling on a plancha.

Summer means grilling season. I know that. But rarely do I fire up a charcoal or wood-fired grill for only one or two persons. Instead, I do my grilling on a plancha in the comfort of the kitchen.

Plancha means a metal plate. It’s also the word for “iron,” the sort you iron your clothes with. Nowadays, irons are electric, but I once lived in an old mill house in the country with no electricity. We heated heavy planchas on a gas fire to iron our clothes. I had a pair of them—one to heat while the other was in use. 

But, back to grilling on a plancha. In a tapa bar, a plancha is the same sort of griddle you might find in a fast-food joint for grilling hamburgers. Instead of burgers, the grill meister is cooking tiny squid; whole, unpeeled prawns; slabs of swordfish steak; pork cutlets, and small steaks, basting them with aliño, a mixture of olive oil, garlic, parsley and lemon. I am amazed at the skill, knowing exactly when to turn each piece of food, when to remove it from the grill.

A plancha is a great tool for home cooking. I prefer a heavy, cast-iron grill pan that heats evenly. Especially useful is a reversible one—ridged grill pan on one side, great for steaks, and flat griddle on the other, perfect for fish and shellfish. The plancha sets directly over a gas burner.

Hake steak on a flat plancha.

How to grill on a plancha: Place the plancha over high heat until very hot, about 4 minutes. Then brush the grill with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt (same procedure whether using a flat or ridged grill pan). Place food to be grilled on the plancha. Keep the heat on high to get a good sear on the food. Don’t move it around. Then turn it.

Timing is the tricky bit, just as it is with grilling on charcoal. It takes some practice to know when to turn the food, when to take it off the grill.

Chicken breasts on a ridged grill pan.
If you don’t have a plancha, substitute a large cast iron skillet. An extractor fan helps to draw out the smoke from grilling, but you might set off the smoke alarm in any case. By the way, any of the foods cooked on a plancha can also be cooked a la parilla, on a charcoal or wood-fired grill.

What I most like about plancha cooking is that it doesn’t need a whole lot of pre-planning—no marinades, rubs, brines required. But, plancha-grilled foods really do need a sensational sauce. Romesco sauce with grilled shrimp. Alioli (garlic-olive oil mayonnaise) with griddled lamb chops or rabbit. Piquillo pepper sauce with fish. Here’s a bunch more.

Sauce for Grilled Foods

This simple sauce is spooned over grilled foods immediately before serving. Use it with griddled baby cuttlefish, grilled chicken breast or any fish fillet. The sauce can also be used as a marinade or basting sauce. Keep it handy when you´re grilling meat, poultry and fish.

Aliño in the making.
2 cloves chopped garlic
½ cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oi

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir to mix. Use at room temperature. Sauce may be kept, covered and refrigerated, for up to one week.

Grilled hake and vegetables, drizzled with aliño.

Mojo Verde
Green Chile Sauce with Cilantro

This spicy Canary Islands sauce is sensational with grilled fish, lamb, or vegetables.

Cilantro, garlic, chiles for mojo verde.
4 cloves garlic
1 green chile, such as jalapeño (or to taste)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
½ cup chopped parsley
½ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons water

Place all ingredients in a blender container and blend until smooth. Sauce keeps, covered and refrigerated, one week.

Squid and sliced potatoes are grilled on a plancha, served with spicy mojo verde. The squid was cut open lengthwise, edges snipped to prevent their curling and grilled whole, then cut in pieces to serve. The potatoes were partially cooked whole, then sliced and brushed with olive oil before placing on the grill pan.

Mojo Picón
Red Chile Sauce

Serve this as a dipping sauce for chips, with grilled chicken or meat.

Piquant mojo picón.
3 tablespoons pimentón (paprika), not smoked
1 fresh red chile, seeded and chopped, or cayenne to taste
4 cloves garlic
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons water

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. If desired, thin with a little water. Sauce keeps one week, refrigerated.

Grilled chicken and butternut squash with mojo picón.

Sliced chicken on grilled bread with spicy red chile sauce.

Salsa Cabrales
Cabrales Blue Cheese Sauce

Cabrales is a distinctive blue cheese from Asturias—sharp, but remarkably creamy in consistency. It makes a delightful dressing or dip when thinned with wine or, in the Asturian style, dry cider. It's a classic served with grilled entrecote steaks. But, you know what? I didn't really like the blue cheese sauce with the steak. It was delicious, however, with the potatoes and as a dip with endive leaves.

Makes 2/3 cup

5 ounces Cabrales or other blue cheese
2 tablespoons chopped onions
1/3 cup white wine, cider or cava (sparkling wine)
Pinch of cumin seed

Place the cheese in a blender with onions, wine and cumin seed. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately or keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 3 days.

Ridged grill pan gives a good sear to steak, sliced potatoes.


  1. Looks perfect, love this type of recipe, this time of year.


  2. where did you buy your plancha? David Johnston

    1. David: I have two sizes of cast-iron plancha-- both purchased at a ferretería (hardware store) in Spain. Nowadays, I see them in lighter-weight metals. I have never tried an electric one. If anyone has experience with those, let me know.

    2. Love your Blog! Living in Spain, so always order " a la plancha" eating out! Bought electric one years ago, got rid of it, Only "Cast Iron" for me. "Lodge" is good, (Cuisenart a little expensive) most others are Aluminium. I Use Cast Iron, best result, cooks evenly, good for high heat. "Lodge" is cheap in the States, I got a 28cm, and a couple of smaller. Throwing Trout in it now. (drop of oil, wipe with paper towel if you need) Your sauces are fantastic,(recipes) easy & healthy, I use with potatoes, French fry's,Aspergus,etc. Thank You for Your Blog!!!

    3. Sweet Basil: Yep, cast iron is the best--although I'm a little timorous using it on my new induction cooktop. Glad you like the sauces.

  3. I too bought mine from a ferrerteria. 30€ for the gas ring (two rings) and 30€ for a plancha, turn it over and it become a griddle.