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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Socca à Nice: how to eat and run on the Côte d'Azur

(If you are reading this post on a RSS reader, you might want to click through to Chez Pim for the slideshow.)

Have you tried Socca? If you've been to the South of France, especially in Nice, you must have at least seen it. Socca is ubiquitous 'street' food in those parts. Made primarily with chickpea flour and olive oil –ingredients plentiful around the Mediterranean- Socca is a quick, cheap, and delightful snack common not only on the French part of the coast but all the way into Liguria in Italy, where it goes by the name Farinata.

Finding a good Socca in Nice is a matter of 'when' rather than 'where' –that is to say there is not a huge variance in quality between all the Socca places in town. It's just a couple ingredients for goodness sake. The key is to get it as it comes right out of the oven. If you happen upon a Socca joint that's just pulled one of those giant round pan out of their brick oven, be sure to get a portion and enjoy. That place, ladies and gentleman, is quite possibly the best Socca joint in town at that very moment.

The 'correct' Socca –as this is France there is a 'correct' way and 'incorrect' way to do everything- is not wafer thin or crispy like chips. It should be more like a thin pancake that is crisp at the edges, with burnt blisters in places.

I found a recipe that makes Socca that most closely resemble the ones I've had in Nice. And just like Proust's Madeleine, a bite of this Socca transports me right back to the crowded streets of Old Nice. Ok, I was just there not too many days ago, so it's not like the transport had far to go, but quand même!

Recipe adapted from this one.
250 g. Chickpea (Garbanzo) flour
3 cups of water (cold)
1/2 cup +1 tbsp olive oil for the batter, and more to grease the pan
2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
one thick and flat bottom pan about 12' in diameter.

1. Set an oven rack on the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500F, or the highest your oven can go. Move the top rack to the top third of the oven.
2. Stir the chickpea flour and salt together until well-mixed.
3. Add water to the dry ingredient and mix well with a whip.
4. Slowly add the olive oil, mixing vigorously so that the batter is not lumpy.
5. The consistency of the batter should be closer to whole milk than heavy cream. It must be thinner than regular crepe batter, and significantly thinner than pancake batter. Whisk in more water if the batter is too thick. Set aside.
6. Rub the entire surface of the pan well with a bit of olive oil and put the pan in the oven for 5 minutes.
7. Turn the oven on Broil. Take the pan out of the oven, pour 1/2 tbsp of olive oil in the pan and pour about 1/2 cup of the Socca batter on to the hot pan, taking care to spread it evenly. The batter should spread in a very thin layer over the pan.
8. Put the pan under the broiler for 3-5 minutes. Watch the Socca carefully. It should turn brown and blister in places but should not be too burnt.
9. Put the pan back in the oven to reheat for a minute before cooking the next batch.
10. Serve the Socca immediately, with a liberal dusting of freshly ground pepper and more salt to taste.
11. Repeat the process from #6 until the batter is finished.


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