Panisse Recipe

A few months ago I was having drinks at a friend’s house up by the Place des Fêtes, outdoors on their patio, and I noticed something tucked away in the corner.

frying panisses

Me: “Hey! What’s that?”

Them: “What’s what?”

Me: “That! Over there…in the corner. Is that what I think it is? Oh my God!”

Them: “Oh, yeah, that. We put it in about fifteen years ago, but we never use it.”

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how I learned that my friends actually had—get this, a grill!

panisses

I didn’t think anyone here had a grill. And with the 4th of July en route, I immediately suggested we grill an all-American dinner.


I dreamed of ribs, tossing them on the fire until they’re crisp on the outside, meaty and tender within. I must confess that was going to make a green bean salad with pesto, but I broke my basil-gazing when I saw jumbo heads of pale green l’iceberg piled at the market and decided wedges of that would be plus américain with bleu cheese dressing, topped with chives and crunchy pan-fried nuggets of smoked bacon. (Except I forgot to buy the bacon, which wasn’t so bad. Believe me, there was plenty of pork that day.)

Because I’m a list-maker, I had on the list grilled polenta, too, then I remembered the delicious, crispy panisses I had in Nice and decided they’d be more fun, which we could nibble as we sipped our drinks, basking in the glow of the roaring flames of le grille parisien.

Panisses are perfect snack food, excellent served with rosé or alongside meat dishes, like they do in Provence. They sometimes get dusted with sugar, for the kiddies, although to us adults, they’re best appreciated with a cool glass of wine and plenty of coarse salt and cracked black pepper. They probably could be grilled, but fried to a crisp, they’re so good and I hate to mess with French history. They get pretty touchy about that around here.

After the batter is cooked, to form the panisses, in Jacques Médecin’s book,Cuisine Niçoise, he calls for the cook to oil a dozen small saucers and “arrange them in a neat line.”

He obviously didn’t live in a space-challenged Paris apartment, like the rest of us, where you don’t have a lot of room for extras. When you do, saucers for teacups move way down to the bottom of the list of life’s necessities.

And as much as I love you all, I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of washing up 12 various dishes when one 9-inch (23cm) square cake pan did the job nicely. Sorry Jacques.

panisse batter

Making the panisse batter is similar to polenta, and equally difficult: you basically dump, then stir.

There are various kinds of chickpea flour available, depending on where you live. I used the coarse stuff from my local Arab market, but the Italian varieties seem to be much finer, which I think is what they use in the south of France so they have a smooth, almost custard-like interior and slick, crispy crust.

In Marseille, they fashioned the panisse mixture into thick logs, then sliced them into rounds for frying. But I like the idea of elongated fingers, although you can do as you wish. Heck, you can cut them into hearts, moons, and clovers for all I care. Just don’t tell anyone Marseilleise, or Monsieur Médecin.

Deep-frying is my recipe deal breaker. If I get to any recipe that says, “Heat 4 quarts of oil in a large kettle…”, I turn the page as fast as I can.

So the first time I tried frying my panisses (which sounds funny, but I’m sure there’s a site out there for guys into that—but this isn’t that site), I used a non-stick pan and a California-style, barest minimum of olive oil. The results were slightly charred panisses (I’m sure there’s a site for that, too) and I wanted golden-brown, lovely fingers of chickpea deliciousness like I had in Provence.

In spite of swimsuit season, I wised up and made a nice bain of olive oil, a bath if you will, and tried that. It worked perfectly. Some say panisses need to be deep-fried, but I hate deep frying at home; it seems like a waste of a lot of oil and a big mess. So I used what I would consider a considerable, but restrained amount. Just enough to get the job done.

If you’re unsure of the exact quantity, the quantity of oil in the pan should be nearly the same amount of the rosé you’re drinking as you fry them up. Which was what I did, if I remember correctly. It was hard to keep up with all that fryer oil, but I did my best.

starting to fry

Panisses
Makes about 40, more or less

I fried my panisses in olive oil in my cast iron skillet, although some might say you’ll get a better crust using a more fryer-friendly oil. Mine tasted perfect. I love the flavor that comes from frying them in olive oil, but you’re welcome to use whatever oil you prefer.

  • 1 quart (1l) water
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 1/4 cups (285g) chickpea flour
  • olive oil, for frying
  • coarse salt and freshly-cracked pepper, for serving

1. Lightly oil a 9-inch (23 cm) square cake pan, or similar sized vessel.

2. Heat the water with the oil and salt in a saucepan. Once hot, but not boiling, whisk in the chickpea flour.

3. Whisk over medium heat until the mixture thickens, about three minutes.

4. Switch to a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes until very thick and the batter holds its shape.

5. Scrape into the oiled pan and let cool.

6. To fry the panisses, unmold the solidified mixture on a cutting board and slice into batons about as wide as your fourth finger and as long as your middle one.

7. In a heavy-duty skillet, heat 1/4-1/2 inch (1-2 cm) of olive oil. When shimmering hot, fry the panisses in batches, not crowding them in the pan. Once the bottom is nicely browned and crisp, turn with tongs, frying the panisses until they are deep-golden brown on each side.

8. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels, sprinkling them very generously with salt and pepper. Don’t be stingy with either. Continue frying the rest, heating more oil in the pan as needed.

Panisses are best served warm sprinkled with sea salt and black pepper.

2 chickpea flours

Sources for chickpea flour:

Search natural foods or specialty food shops (specifically Middle Eastern and Indian) for unroasted chickpea flour, which is sometimes called besan or chana. If ordering online, inquire before ordering whether the flour is unroasted or not.

The Italian chickpea flour is much finer (left), and has a richer, more golden color. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to find although you may be able to find it in an Italian shop, called farina di ceci. Next time, I’m going to try whizzing my non-Italian chickpea flour in the blender to grind it finer. Also I found some wood chips in mine, so be careful and give yours a good going through.

  • Amazon.com

  • Bob’s Red Mill

  • Surfas

  • Chef’s Shop (Sometimes stocks Italian chickpea flour.)

  • Casa dal Masso (Italian chickpea flour, by mail, in France.)

    Favorite books on Mediterranean cooking, which inspired this recipe:

  • Made in Marseille by Daniel Young

  • Cuisine Niçoise by Jacques Médecin

  • Flavors of the Riviera by Coleman Andrews

  • Cuisine of the Sun by Mirielle Johnson

  • 43 comments

    • That crepe like thing with the paste is normal – it’s like the layer of “skin” that forms when you heated milk and let it settle for a while. That seems to be happening with the chickpea flour. It’s just the skin on the top I think. Nothing really wrong.

    • Panisses, yum. So what was cooked on the grill?

      Meanwhile I spent the evening of the 4th here in NZ with a school friend who lives just south of Paris. We celebrated our catch up (after 26 years) and laughed, a lot

      I love most things made with chickpea flour and then fried. Such a more-ish texture and taste.

    • “Bully” for you! I’m going to put on some Gershwin (American In Paris) and think about incorporating your recipe into today’s BBQ/grilling! I use a ceramic cooker/roaster, sort of based on a Tandoor.

    • I tried Panisse at work, they wouldn’t or couldn’t get it, go figure? So I settled on making a regular polenta frite with goat cheese, really nice, will give the panisse another try, maybe just at home!

    • Oh I love besan, and these look absolutely delicious.

    • Hey, you’re a week too late: I was in paris last week and I could have brought you some farina di ceci from Milan… next time?
      Joan

    • Jeremy: I definitely think you should give them another shot. But if you can find Italian chick pea flour, which you probably can in NYC (and believe me, I checked in every health food shop and Italian épicerie in Paris) if I could find it, I would use it.

      Joan: Deal!

      A: I wasn’t worried about it. It was just odd lying there in the bottom of the pan after I’d let it soak for a while.

      I was actually tempted to pull it off and fry it up, but reconsidered and realized that probably wasn’t such a great idea.

    • I’ve never had these and they look/sound delicious. I’m going to be making these very, very soon.

    • I always stock chickpea flour for Indian flatbreads, but also for this and socca. Gives my cast iron skillet a workout :)
      Simple but delicious.

    • “the quantity of oil in the pan should be nearly the same amount of the rosé you’re drinking as you fry them up”
      LOL!!!!!!!!!!

    • David,
      Forgot to mention that I am the proud owner of cast iron skillet, mine is probably already 20 yrs old, getting shinier then ever!

    • Do the panisses hold together better than a polenta finger? I had a devil of a time with mine a few weeks ago and I’d love to try again… I’m just not sure what I’m doing wrong..

    • Looks great! I actually keep some besan around that I use for making pakoras. Now I might have another use for it. It’s a pretty big bag, after all.

    • I’ll give this recipe a try. For some reason, I loved your olive oil measure standard. I do believe this will be the start of me measuring many things by the amount of wine inside the glass I hold in my hand. WHO needs measuring cups anyway?

    • They gave us free “fourth of July” wine and cheese at the Paris crew hotel, so we all imbibed. As usual, whenever anyone asked where I keep getting the great recipes and dining recommendations…Try saying “David Lebovitz” after three or four glasses of wine.

    • Thank you so much for trying (and sharing) a recipe! I may be thoroughly sinful and serve these with an aioli some time.
      Best regards,
      Charlene

    • David, you do know at least one other person who has a grill in Paris – and you have been invited many times to enjoy it! Hope you can make it over for a barbecue before the end of the month…just name your day!

    • David, I can get the chickpea flour here, I gave as a gift to my barber who is Italian and lived in Genoa. The Italians make a similar sort of pannise/socca called if I remember correctly, farinata.,(I will check that, Dan Lepard has the recipe in his book.)
      I will try to do them again, maybe not at work but when I go to Istanbul this august to visit Dilara Erbay of Abracadabra restaurant, will tell you all about it when I post the story on my blog!

      Cheers.

    • I tried making panisse several weeks ago when you first mentioned it. What am I missing? Totally unimpressed. Think I’ll stick to polenta.

    • David,

      I just made your 2005 cherry jam recipe (yay for archives). Thank you for the plate test photo. My jam, your recipe, rocks! We picked about 3 gallons worth of cherries from my sister’s tree. Thanks for keeping your site!

    • I’ve always wondered how much oil to use when pan frying instead of deep frying, thanks for giving me a measurement that I can use!

    • I wonder if I can add some kind of additional flavoring without burning said flavor. I’m thinking rosemary or garlic, maybe black olives. Would blue cheese crumbles hold up?

    • Tried your Florentine recipe. It was fab! I’m going to try them for the holidays with a bit of candied cherries mixed in.

    • Thanks for the recipe David! I’ve been wanting to try making this ever since I heard about it from you weeks ago. Kudos to the non-deep-frying method. Will sure be trying this out pretty soon!

    • I’m going to try these!

      I have some chickpea flour leftover from making Besan Ladoo; basically a non-fried Indian cookie — can’t remember which recipe I used, but here’s one that looks good: /.

      Chickpea flour is also sometimes called besan.

    • Oops. Meant to say that chickpea flour is also sometimes called gram. You mentioned it’s being called besan.

    • Do you know, at the end of the post I could have hit myself with the kitchen tongs. In the beginning, I thought: this looks interesting, now what can I make it with – since I wouldn’t have any of the ingredients so easily found in the west… And then, I kept thinking of sattu, which is made from chana, but after roasting, so you just have to mix with water and salt and have it with spicy pickles, or with water and sugar, and eat. Wonderful instant food full of energy and proteins. Anyway, that wouldn’t do, since its strong in itself… and then, of course, you said it – the damn thing is simply besan! Of all the silly things to forget! Yet, now that I know, I doubt if I will try it, for my heart already belongs to ‘besan ke gatte’, which is easier to make, and just a wee bit healthier I expect. Do you know it? Basically you make a dough with besan, water, bit of ginger garlic paste, haldi (turmeric), salt, and some chilli powder if you want, then make finger thick rolls, roughly. Boil them up till they float, cool, slice and make a curry with them! Or, like me, just eat them up. Warning though – not very easy to digest if you eat too many. Or maybe I’d go for besan cheela – besan dissolved in water, just a bit of salt, cumin powder and soda bicarb, and fry like crepes. Eat with paneer or any other topping of your choice. Pakoras of all variety are special monsoon foods: the smell of hot pakoras on a rainy afternoon is a classic combination. And of course, dhokla and its relatives from Maharashtra are in a class of their own, steamed food, so light and airy in form. Then the kadhi, which is great when made well…. Guess I might try this new combination with olive oil after all, considering the various forms I like besan in :)

      And oh, chickpeas are called grams, or chana or chola in hindi, the powder is besan in hindi. Different sizes and colours, and different tastes as well for the different varieties of chana. Try green gram if you ever get it fresh. Wash well, just add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Its heavenly. Even without these three things.

    • I knew there was a French version of farinata, but I honestly didn’t know about panissa.

      In Genoa we usually deep-fry, pan-fry (less oil?), grill or eat it “raw”, tossed with salad, which gives away its interesting texture, smooth and dense before slowly melting in your mouth. Kind of slimy, too, but in a good way.

      It’s molded in soup plates and sold usually whole (maybe in slices as well, I never bought it from a store, lest my granma tossed me out of the kitchen window), or by the bunch, already chopped up like the pieces you fried. It’s sort of funny too, because by the shape it takes after setting, it’d look as if every single shop used exactly the same plate.
      – really, short of eating the raw flour by the spoonful, nothing stops us x_x

      Grilled or pan-fried, it’s very common as an aperitivo, along with french-fries. Tricky too, since it’s hard to tell them apart.
      The deep-fried version is also found in Fritto Misto all’Italiana (o alla Piemontese), fried morsels of about everything (no fish), going from panissa to veggies to meat to brain to latte dolce (milk thickened with flour and yolks and sweetened with sugar, vanilla and lemon, sort of like a pudding: an old homely dessert for small children) to a thick puree made with veggies.

      By the way, I gave your Devil’s Food Cake a try last night for my father’s birthday. If the wonderful smell is anywhere close to how it tastes, I’m covering you in chickpea flour.

    • I tried grilling my panisses. I made the batter and put into a loaf pan to cool. After it was cool, I sliced pieces off (about 1/2 inch thick), oiled them and then grilled them off to heat them. They worked really well and were delicious with the shrimp they were served with: Link

    • Just an FYI – the link to Bob’s Red mill goes to a page that doesn’t display the chickpea flour anymore.

      Darn internet! I’ll correct that. Thanks! – dl

    • This goes to prove that cuisine around the world are all cousins!! We make “kothimbir vadi” in Maharashtra (India) which is a slightly spiced up version of this with lots of coriander.
      Just in case it interests you: Link

    • I tried to make these for a French project on Marseille, but it didn’t work. Are you sure that’s the right amount of water? I think it’s too much, because my batter thickened but never to the point where it kept its shape and pulled away from the pan. It stayed sorta soupy.

    • Hannah: Yes, that’s the amount of water I used to reach the consistency shown.

    • I realized what I did. I halved this recipe inorder to practice making the Panisse before my project. I halved all the ingredients except for the water. How stupid is that? My excuse is that it was late at night and that I’m not French. haha

    • Thanks so much for posting this recipe. I didn’t even know what panisse were until last Thursday. One of my dinner companions had ordered them and gave me a taste. As soon as I could I went to the computer to find a recipe. This one appealed to me because it doesn’t call for deep frying. Last Friday we had panisse with salad for supper. Wonderful! There was one left over and it was even good cold. I froze the unfried portions. I’m hoping that works for future reference.

      Again, thanks for a great recipe!

    • I am not sure if I am opening a can of worms here, but I heard a Fresh Air interview (from several years back) in their online archive with Jeremiah Tower where he says that at Chez Panisse, he put panisses on the menu one evening.

      At some point, he decided no one would like them because they had chickpea flour (I am paraphrasing), and then came up with his famous individual, thin-crust goat cheese pizzas, on the fly, to serve that night instead.

      I think these panisses sound great and will definitely try that. I just wondered if you had heard that piece of panisse/Panisse lore

    • Rachelino: There are many stories about who invented what, but I think quite a few Italians (namely in Naples) might have a few words to say about anyone “inventing” think crust pizzas in the last few decades. Although perhaps adding the goat cheese was a non-Italian (ie: Berkeley) touch.

    • oh, David Lebovitz, you are sooo funny! “…but this isn’t that site” :-D
      I’m glad no one else was in the office when I read that. I’m still laughing. And I wouldn’t have noticed a thing had you not pointed it out… Er, I need to choose my words well now.
      Looks yummy nonetheless.

    • Of course. :) I agree. I wasn’t sure what he meant was his invention – the pizzas being served in indvidual portions? the goat cheese instead of mozz?
      When you were at CP, were panisses ever served?

    • David,
      A little late in commenting (I’m new to your site) but I make my own chickpea flour. Soak, cook chickpeas. Drain. Pat dry. Bake low and slow (single layer on a sheet pan) till they are hard little balls of dryness (250F for 3 – 4 hrs). Grind in either a coffee grinder or spice grinder. I’ve heard a Vitex blender works too but don’t have one. This, in objection to the ridiculous prices and limited availability of chickpea flour in Miami. The grind is more coarse then the Italian flour but it is gorgeous and fresh and nutty.

    • Yum – this looks really delicious. I want to achieve the “custardy” interior of the Southern French panisse so I’ll give it ago sometime, even though I too hate deep frying!

    • Hi David, thanks for mentioning panisse which I used to love when I was going out with a boy from Genoa whose mother was a wonderful cook. (and thanks to Shin for talking about them: yes I do remember the soup dish shape they get :). You may be interested to know that there is a street food from Sicily that is closely related to panisse/panizze: it’s called Panelle and it’s like a panizza, only not fried nor grilled. It’s simply the unmolded stuff cut into sliced and served inside a bun. There’s also a popular saying that glorifies this kind of diet and goes something like “Pane e panelle fanno i figli belli”, bread and panelle make beautiful kids :)

      the same smooth chickpea flour is used to make Farinata or Cecina (the Italian version of Socca).

      there is also another dish with a very similar name, Panissa, which is an almost unbearably rich risotto with beans (borlotti I think) and sausages, from the Novara area (land of rice fields).

      Wonderful blog, by the way :)

    • God. What a flash you gave me. I had all but forgotten about them but your lovely intro took me back 10 yrs when we rented a house in the hills above Nice. Sitting under a fig tree dropping figs, my beloved and I drank Cotes du Ventoux and nibbled on panisse that he’d driven down to town to get. Whew!