Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Deep fried chickpeas and a general theory of bar snacks

I was watching Alton Brown's new series, Feasting on Waves, earlier this week and I found myself with a sudden urgent need for Caribbean snacks. Of course I don't have any of the proper ingredients in the house (and I'm surprised that they aren't more easily available here in Miami. Maybe just not in my neighborhood.) so I had to improvise. Luckily I had a couple of Caribbean spice blends handy and the knowledge that you deep-frying just about anything starchy will turn it into bar-food. I haven't found any legitimately trustworthy information on the processes, but the untrustworthy info says that both starch and fat slow your absorption of alcohol. The starch by absorbing the alcohol and releasing it slowly and the fat by physically blocking absorption. Probably nonsense.

Anyway, frying chick peas works on the french fry principle. The hot oil heats the water inside the food; the steam bursts out forcing apart the particles of food and making it light and fluffy. Meanwhile, the surface is browning and crisping under the oil's more direct assault. The nice thing about chick peas is that the outer skin sometimes detaches so you get a thin crispy shell with an air buffer beneath so it doesn't start reabsorbing remaining moisture from inside and getting soggy immediately the way french fries do. You already know you can do this with potatoes, yams, yucca and the like, but it also works with peanuts and other real nuts if you can find raw ones to do it with. I think the effect that puffs up krupuk, shrimp crackers, is different--just air escaping, not steam. I'm pretty sure there are Indian snacks that expand when you deep fry them too, but I'm not having any luck looking them up as I have no idea what they're called. Anyway, the trick is getting the temperature right so both the inside and outside are done at the same time. I do it by instinct at this point so I don't have any useful advice here other than to make sure whatever you're deep frying is good and dry before you start. I'll just say that deep fried chick peas are pretty tasty on their own and better when dusted with salt and whatever spices you're in the mood for. I used canned, as that's what I had. I'm curious how differently a dried and soaked chickpea would respond to deep frying. The firmer texture may make them explode like popcorn instead of just puffing up. I'm going to have to try that.


kat said...

Oh this sounds so good. I like roasted chick peas but I bet this is even better. So how do you dry your canned chick peas before frying them?

billjac said...

I don't think I did anything particularly unusual but you're right that getting them good and dry is really important. I rinsed off the can-gunk, drained them in a colander, laid them out on paper towels over a rack, folded the paper towels over on top, rolled them around for a bit and then took them off of the moist paper towels and let them air dry on a plate while the oil heated up. OK, now that I see it all written down maybe it is a little unusual.

Now that I'm thinking about deep fried chickpeas a little more I occurs to me that beyond being a good snack, they'd also make a good garnish on one of those overly elaborate composed plates you get in the better sort of restaurant. Shame I so rarely cook like that.

billjac said...

I just had lunch at Xixón Café on Coral Way (as I do whenever I have two hours and forty bucks to blow on a really good lunch) and saw fried chickpeas on their tapas menu. I didn't know they were a Spanish thing. Now that I do, next time I'm going to spice them with pimenton.