What's the Deal with... Panisses

You know that thing? That thing that’s everywhere, and it sounds like something you should already know about, so you don’t really want to ask? Well, we know about it, and we’ll give you the intel. Welcome to What’s the Deal with.

Photo credit: Joanne Wan/Flickr

Consider the panisse.

Earlier this month, restaurant critic Gael Greene noshed on a plate of them, festooned with vibrant edible flowers, at Betony in New York City. Not long after, New York Times critic Pete Wells commended those at Grindhaus in Brooklyn as “good enough to go with any dish they wanted.” And you’ll find them on menus from the United Kingdom (at the French Table in Surrey) to the Midwest (at Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis, Missouri).

So what are panisses, exactly? Here’s what you need to know:

What They Are: Fried chickpea cakes.

How They’re Made: Cookbook author David Lebovitz writes on his blog that panisses comprise a batter of chickpea flour, boiling water, oil, and salt. One pours the mixture into an oiled pan, then leaves it to cool and solidify. Once firm, the batter is sliced into thick, fry-shaped sticks, which are then fried in a half-inch of shimmering olive oil. To finish, sprinkle the browned panisses liberally with salt and pepper.

What They Taste Like: Like a cross between hummus and French fries: creamy, crunchy, and savory.

Where They Come From: Panisses aren’t a new craze. They were particularly trendy in the 1930s around Marseille’s Old Port as a snack, or paired with a salad as a meal,” Daniel Young writes in his 2002 book “Made in Marseille.” ”[The] interior of a fried panisse is almost comparable to fried cheese in its creaminess.”

Despite sharing a name with Alice Waters’ renowned Berkeley, California restaurant Chez Panisse (which tragically suffered a fire last year), there’s no direct connection between it and the snack. Interestingly, however, the restaurant is named for Honoré Panisse, a character in the French films “Marius,” “Fanny” and “César,” which are all set in (you guessed it!) Marseille.

Why They’re Great: First off, they’re a deep-fried snack. What’s not to like? Secondly: They’re gluten-free, which is excellent news for celiac sufferers.

Still need convincing? As Mark Bittman wrote in 2008, “Frankly, it’s hard to believe that someone who makes these at home will not find them a frequent if not permanent replacement for French fries.” So go on and give panisses a whirl; here’s a simple recipe to help you do so.