The A La Plancha Method For Shrimp With Smokier Flavor

Understanding "a la plancha" cooking, and how it affects your food, starts with a basic understanding of the term. In Spanish, the word plancha simply refers to a flat heated surface, usually made from cast iron, which historically could have been used both in and out of the kitchen. Now, it's universally tied to the culinary world and appears in both professional and home kitchens, albeit with a few variations between the two. 

Overall, a plancha facilitates high-heat cooking and is spacious enough for making several foods at the same time. Many of us own home-kitchen versions known as griddles, which come in handy for family-style pancakes, scrambled eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, and sizzling up crowd-portions of hamburger patties. There's the plug-in countertop version, a built-in griddle in larger stovetops, and even transportable ones for laying across an outdoor grill. They're all forms of a plancha, and fortunately, they're transformational when it comes to cooking seafood, especially shrimp. 

Shrimp cooks very quickly, so they can handle the super-hot surface of a plancha. It sears those little crustaceans to crispy nirvana on the exterior without under- or over-cooking the interior, all while sealing in juices for ultimate succulence. A major added benefit is a deliciously smoky flavor that infuses the moist shrimp as they hit that high heat. It goes without saying that the same effect occurs when placing a standalone plancha over some heated grill grates. Better yet, consider buying a larger grill with a built-in griddle.

Cooking shrimp a la plancha style

It's worth noting that planchas in Spain traditionally come in a round shape rather the rectangular formation of Western-style griddles. Benefits could include better heat distribution from radial disbursement, so if you can find a circular plancha, it may be worth splurging. Your best bet is to search for a round cast-iron griddle, or even consider a low-rimmed paella pan. 

Cooking shrimp a la plancha generally takes less than 10 minutes, including three to five minutes on each side. Start by heating the plancha to medium-high, typically reaching 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and scatter a small amount of salt across the surface for a toasty, seasoned head start. Then drop the shrimp on the hot surface, add your favorite seafood seasonings, and let that high heat do its magic on each side until the shrimp lose transparency and turn white. 

It's easy to adapt existing grilled shrimp recipes to the a al plancha cooking method, including this sweet and spicy grilled shrimp recipe from Tasting Table recipe developer Hayley MacLain. Just coat the shrimp with the chili garlic sauce and honey mixture before dropping them onto the plancha surface. That luscious sauce gets an infusion of smoke along with the shrimp, and you'll have no worries about them slipping through the slats of an outdoor grill. Vegetables also thrive in a la plancha cooking, so feel free to toss some onto the flat surface for a few minutes toward the end.