Man of La Plancha

We just made it through a muggy slog of hot weather – too hot to cook. And, due to health issues (no worries, best possible outcome!) we got a late start on grilling this season. We have been eating a lot of salad: Cobb, Niçoise, taco, cold sesame noodle, Chinese chicken, and every variation of pasta salad you can imagine. So, when at long last we were ready to fire up the charcoal, we decided to keep it classic and simple. But what to eat?  No surprise, we craved a rare, juicy hunk of red meat and treated ourselves to a couple of lovely strip steaks. Mitchell’s favored grilling technique is to use a plancha, which gives the meat a lovely sear. Nothing fancy is needed here. We use a double burner griddle pan that came with a long-gone stove. Other advantages? You never have to worry about a chunk of $20.00 a pound swordfish slipping through the grate into the coals and have no need to scrub anything with a metal brush. 

We just happened to have a classic wine to pair with our lovely steak, Les Vins de La Gabare’s Les Amandiers Cabernet Franc produced in collaboration with Les Caves De Pyrene, famed organic winemaker Nicolas Reau, and local Anjou growers. This wine has a gorgeous garnet glow in the glass and best of all, will take a chill as well as a Beaujolais, as is commonly served with steak frites in many a Paris bistro. This is a light-bodied, delightfully dry and fruity wine with bright cherry notes. It delivers the promised soft almond nuttiness in its name which gives this wine a distinctive, heady aroma.  

Yes, you guessed it – our accompaniments for this meal were yet another leafy green salad and a tub of potato salad from our favorite deli counter. Once everything was on the table and we were sipping our chilled Cabernet Franc, just for a moment we were transported to a quaint Paris bistro.

Steaks on the plancha

This is more of a description of an outdoor cooking technique than it is a recipe. The technique requires a hot grill (gas or charcoal or even a wood fire), a grill grate, and a heavy, flat bottom cast iron cooking surface. We use a 16.5” by 10” double-burner cast iron griddle, but you could use a large cast iron pan, or you can buy cast iron planchas in various shapes and sizes. You want something that will fit on your grill grate, and preferably something with a lip or pan sides all around to keep fats or oils from dripping into your flames. This technique allows you to grill at very high temperatures without causing flare-ups that can burn your food and ruin your grill.

We use a standard 22” Weber grill, one we’ve had for more than 20 years. And for this meal, we bought two good size strip steaks, each two inches thick. You can use this same technique for all sorts of grilling—lamb chops, pork shoulder butterflied and pounded a half inch thin, marinated spiced chicken thighs cut in quarters, sliced garden vegetables like summer squash, peppers, and onions, even halved tomatoes and pitted and halved peaches. Yum.

OK, let’s get cooking with the plancha.

Pat the steaks dry with paper towel, then season them liberally with Kosher salt and a few grindings of pepper and set aside in the fridge until 10 minutes before you want to cook them.

If using a charcoal grill, put a good mound of briquettes in the center of the grill and then push some down toward two sides to form a rectangle at least the dimensions of the cast iron griddle. Light the grill. If using a gas grill, set it to high and close the cover with the vents open. If using charcoal, or wood, don’t put the grill grate on yet. Let the charcoal burn until the coals glow red hot with a coating of white ash.

Then put the grill grate over the fire. Put the cast iron plancha or pan on the grill grate, put the domed grill cover on with the vent open, and let it heat for 12-15 minutes. Take your steaks out of the fridge while the plancha heats up. 

Remove or lift the grill cover. You will see the heat rising off the now hot plancha. Put your steaks on the plancha and press down on them briefly with a sturdy metal spatula. Let them cook undisturbed for six minutes (for medium rare; times will vary based on your preferences and what is being cooked, obviously). Using sturdy metal tongs, turn the steaks over, press down briefly with the spatula, and let them cook another six minutes.

Remove the steaks to a cutting board and let them rest for 7-10 minutes. Then you can slice them if you wish or serve them as is or cut in half if feeding four people.

While they are resting, take the sturdy metal tongs or two thick oven mitts and very carefully lift the plancha off the grill grate, letting any accumulated fat run off, preferably not into the fire. Put the plancha on the ground, leaning against a leg of the grill. You want to let it cool before you clean it, so enjoy your meal. Then later, when the plancha has cooled, rinse it under hot water and clean it with mild detergent and a scrub sponge to remove any stuck on brown bits stuck. Rinse well and set aside to dry.

Your work is done. You, too, are now a Man (or Woman) of La Plancha!