As a rule, deep-frying things is a good idea. Frying transforms croissant dough into a treat that otherwise reasonable people are willing to wait hours for. It transforms dry, bland Thanksgiving turkey into a moist, juicy marvel. It transforms broccoli into the kind of upscale restaurant appetizer that gets chefs book deals. You will be hard-pressed to find an ingredient that doesn’t benefit from a plunge in the deep-fryer, is what I’m saying.
And yet one fried food continues to dominate Americans’ fried food consumption: French fries. They play a part in about 13 percent of restaurant meals ordered in this country. They are our No. 1 national potato-product export. They are one of the very few fried foods that do not even mention their primary ingredient in their names. They are on a Madonna-like single-name basis with the world — we mostly just call them fries, not French fried potatoes.
I’ll eat however many French fries you put in front of me. French fries are indisputably a wonderful food. But their reputation as the zenith of deep-fried foods seems unexamined at best. They’re not the most interesting deep-fried potato dish: latkes, tater tots and hash browns all have more pleasurable textures. They’re not even the tastiest deep-fried fry-shaped thing.
That title belongs to chickpea fries: crispy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside little batons made from garbanzo bean flour and whatever other flavorings you care to add to them. They’re an American variation on panelle de ceci, garbanzo flour fritters that are often served on rolls or as bite-sized rounds or squares in southern Italy (France, too). With a smooth, dense, and custard-like interior, chickpea fries are far more satisfying than the starchy potato version. (They’re also higher in protein and fiber, if you’re concerned about such things when you eat fried foods.)
Chickpea fries are arguably easier to make than French fries, as well. They take a little extra time, but the technique itself is child’s play compared to the endless, fiddly peeling and julienning required for French fries. You make a quick stiff batter on the stovetop, let it cool and harden in a pan, cut it into sticks (which takes about a minute), and fry away. If you’re planning on serving them at a cocktail or dinner party (obviously, they pair great with cocktails), you can do everything except for the frying a day or two in advance.
Rosemary Chickpea Fries • Oil for greasing the pan
• 1 cup chickpea flour
• 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
• 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
• Salt and black pepper
• Canola or light olive oil for deep-frying
Grease an 8- or 9-inch square pan. Put the chickpea flour, stock, and rosemary in a medium saucepan; season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is very thick, 7 to 10 minutes. Spread the chickpea flour mixture as evenly as possible into the greased pan, cover with foil or plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.
Put at least 2 inches of the canola or light olive oil in a large, deep pot over medium-high heat. Cut the chickpea flour cake into 1/2-by-3-inch strips. Add one of the strips to the oil to test whether it’s hot enough; the oil should immediately bubble vigorously. Working in batches, cook the remaining strips until deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the strips to paper towels to drain, season with salt, and serve hot.Yield: 4 to 6 servings Time: About 11/2 hours, largely unattended