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« For The Sweet Love of Spud | Main | New World Kitchen: A Sprinkle of Sugar »
Monday
Jun062005

Paper Chef #7: Seafood Socca with Date-Orange Salad, Spiced Honey Sauce and Crème Fraîche

socca.jpg
Seafood Socca with Date-Orange Salad, Spiced Honey Sauce and Crème Fraîche

It's not often that I run across something on my plate that I've never heard of. Maybe while traveling, yes, but certainly not on home turf, where the same basic ingredients get continually rehashed in restaurants across the city. So imagine my great surprise when a recent weekend afternoon found me in a smart local French establishment staring in disbelief at my menu, halfway suspecting a spelling mistake and defensively challenging the waiter: 'what is that?' 'A socca, madam,' he replied with infinite Gallic graciousness, 'is a chickpea pancake from southern France. It is very good.' I squinted at him for a moment before deciding that he was probably telling the truth, at least the part about it being good, because after all, he did have a French accent. 'Okay,' I conceded, 'If you say it's good I'll have it.'

The socca that appeared on my plate was a thick circle about six inches in diameter, crusty and golden on the outside and studded with large succulent mussels. The pancake itself was nutty and moist with a subtle whisper of fennel, and it came crowned with a peppery tangle of frisee salad and a pungent drizzle of fresh basil pesto. And he hadn't been lying - it was good. So good, in fact, that I raced to the internet as soon as we were home, itchy to fill in my socca gaps.

It turns out that my waiter had been correctly informed, and that the socca is indeed from southern France - Nice, to be exact, though a similar version is also made in Marseille. It is something like a very rustic crêpe which traditionally contains only chickpea flour, water, salt and olive oil, and can still be found in those places sold from mobile socca carts equipped with charcoal ovens. You buy it by the slice, and eat it out of paper cones sprinkled with pepper. How I'd never heard of it is still a mystery, considering my bursting French recipe collection, but there was no time to waste trying to figure that out - I had to try making it myself.

I suspected that the socca I had tasted at the restaurant was a far cry from traditional. Nevertheless, I had been so smitten by it that I decided to try to replicate something similar, and from this attempt comes my first entry for Tomatilla's monthly Paper Chef competition (ingredients dates, honey, buttermilk and eggs), and which is being judged by the lovely and talented Julie of A Finger in Every Pie. I started with the idea of a thick, fennel-y seafood socca like I had tasted, and lightened it with eggs and buttermilk. The result was fantastic, very moist and chewy. I topped it with an improvised date-orange salad with red onion and arugula, and drizzled the whole thing with a reduction of honey, spices and chicken stock. The crowning glory, just to reaffirm my commitment to the competition ingredients in case anybody doubted it, was a homemade crème fraîche, soured with buttermilk. It was a very interesting combination of tastes, both sweet and salty, and made a tasty, albeit unusual, Sunday dinner.

So, socca, welcome to the family. Despite your newcomer status, I'm certain you'll be making frequent and much-anticipated appearances at our table.

Seafood Socca with Date-Orange Salad, Spiced Honey Sauce and Crème Fraîche
Serves: 6

For the soccas:
2 cups chickpea flour (also called gram flour, or garbanzo flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 cups fresh or frozen mixed seafood (I bought a mix that included mussels, shrimp and calamari)

For the date-orange salad:
6-8 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
2 oranges, peeled, and segments cut into pieces
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup arugula (rocket) leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
salt and pepper

For the spiced honey sauce:
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/3 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon hot chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar

For the creme fraiche:
1 cup heavy or double cream
2 tablespoons buttermilk

To make your own crème fraîche, you'll have to start the night before. Add the buttermilk to the heavy cream and shake together in a clean jar. Close the jar, and leave out a room temperature overnight (and depending on how long it takes to set, up to 24 hours). When it has thickened, put in the refrigerator.

For the soccas, whisk the flour, salt and baking soda together in a bowl. Add the eggs, buttermilk and oil and whisk until smooth. Stir in the fennel and the seafood. Coat a 12-inch skillet (preferably a non-stick one) with oil so that it covers the bottom. Heat the pan in the oven at 450F until the oil is hot and bubbling, about 4 minutes (if using a cast iron skillet, it may take longer). Take the pan out of the oven, pour a large scoopful of batter in and swirl around so that it covers the entire bottom of the pan, rearranging the seafood so that they are evenly spaced. Cook in the oven for about 7-9 minutes, or until golden brown on top and firm throughout. Remove from oven, transfer to a plate, and repeat until the socca batter is used up.

For the salad, combine all the ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste. For the sauce, combine the stock, honey and spices in a pan and reduce over medium heat until the sauce has the consistency of heavy cream, about 10 minutes. Add the vinegar and set aside.

Place the soccas on plates and top with some salad, a drizzle of the honey sauce, and a dollop of crème fraîche. C'est tout!

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Reader Comments (22)

Great entry! I've never heard of a socca, either, but I am intrigued. I'll have to keep my eyes out for it at local restaurants, or come back to try your recipe.
June 6, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNic
marvellous
I am going to ask fred if he has heard of it
(He'll probably say no) so I'll ask my other 2 french friends I am seeing tonight.
Thank you for sharing both the education and delicious looking entry.
June 7, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersam
somehow i have heard of it...isn't it a sport with a black and white ball? lol. bad joke. yours is beautiful!
June 7, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersarah
Oh wow! This has just gone to the top of the list for my daughters wedding feast! What a great recipe!
June 7, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterchronicler
You are safe. You are vindicated. 3 x french people I know (all educated & intelligent, one a real foodie) have never heard of socca (apart from the ball game) either.
They all reckon it must be an import from Northern Africa, explaining its popularity in Southern France.

Maybe Melissa is going to start a Socca craze.
June 7, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersam
Hi Nic - it's actually much easier than my recipe would have you believe (had to stick the eggs and buttermilk somewhere!). Just google 'socca recipe' and you'll see it can be whipped up in ten minutes, and if you make them thin enough you can make believe they're crepes and stick anything inside!

Hi Sam - I am so relieved! If even French people haven't heard of it, I guess I can stop whipping myself with this rusty chain for my ignorance ;)

Hi Sarah - I knew that joke would be irresistable to somebody! I even toyed with sticking in a recipe description along the lines of "socca, kicked up a notch"!

Hi Chronicler - Wow, my recipe shortlisted for a wedding feast?!? I'm honored. Now you have me all flustered hoping I measured everything correctly... :)
June 7, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Melissa, this was a truly great entry - not just for finding out what a socca is and how to make one and a truly creative and delightful recipe, but also for a reminder that I can make my own creme fraiche - a trick I may have to teach my kids.
June 7, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterOwen
Melissa, I've actually read about socca (I think in an article on Marseille?) but never tried it. This recipe combines so many flavors and ideas -- sumptuous!
June 8, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJulie
Hi Owen - Yes, it's always interesting what nuggets of forgotten wisdom lurk in our brains, only to be unearthed by 11th-hour need! :) Thanks as always for hosting, and thanks for the great roundup!

Hi Julie - I knew there must be somebody who had heard of it - you apparently know more about French food than many French people, from the sound of it! Good luck making the final judgment - we're all on the edge of our seats ;)
June 8, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
I am absolutely in love with your entry. And your post. And your blog in general. it's beautiful! My husband and I went for brunch a few weeks ago and he had a spinach and cheese socca and I forgot to ask what that was. Thank you for finding out!!! It really is exciting to find out about something new isn't it!
June 8, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLyn
I had my mouse C&P'ing even before your entire page loaded. You made my day, we're heading over to the south of France next month and I'll be looking for these here soccas!!!
June 8, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterrowena
Yours socca looks wonderful Melissa! I too love it when I find out there are still new things to learn about food - it's a neverending and always expanding topic!I remember Santos had a post up a while ago on socca too (http://scentofgreenbananas.blogspot.com/2005/03/socca.html), but she tweaked it a lot and it looked more like a crisp or something.
June 8, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterZarah Maria
Hi Lyn - Spinach and cheese socca sounds so delicious! And thanks for your compliments - I love your blog too!

Hi Rowena - South of France - you really enjoy making me jealous, don't you? ;) You'll have to find a socca-seller there and try the real thing - I'll be anxiously awaiting your report!

Hi Zarah Maria - That's great, thanks for pointing me to Santos' link. I guess she should be taking the credit for introducing soccas to the blogworld! It seems they're pretty adaptable - next time I might try making them thin like hers, since I think they would be really nice to stand in for flatbread or tortillas.
June 8, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
The spinach and cheese soccas that Cakes had were actually quite thin and they were rolled up around filling (scrambled eggs)like crepes. It was a great breakfast.
June 8, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLyn
Hi.. I shall delurk to rave about socca! While at Nice in Dec2003, I tried it, and it was delicious!... it comes in large messy (torn edges of a huge slab) pieces, not like the neat one in the photo. It also tastes like fried radish cake found in Singapore (I'm Singaporean). Thanks for allowing me to remember that wonderful part of my holiday!
June 9, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDawn
Hi Dawn - Thanks for delurking long enough to share your socca experience with us! I'm intrigued by this radish cake, which I've never heard of either. Singapore is one of my must-visit future food destinations, so I'll make sure I remember to look for it when I make it there!
June 9, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Great site. I owe it to "Too Many Chefs" for turning me on to your site
June 11, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterchef 'em out
Hi Chef - Thanks for your compliments! I had no idea Too Many Chefs had linked to this article, so thanks for the heads up on that too!
June 12, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Hi, this is a great variation on socca, I will try this. Am always looking for ways to use chickpeas, as they are low-carb friendly. I have had socca in Nice many times and just across the border, in Liguria region of Italy, they have the same thing, called farinata. And as you said, the traditional recipe involves only chickpea flour, water, salt and olive oil, baked in a copper tray in a wood-burning stone oven, served shredded to pieces with freshly ground blackpepper.... Have to bake some now!
June 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterHande
Hi Hande - I also love finding new ways to use chickpeas. They're so amazingly versatile, and everything made with them is so delicious! I'm looking forward to my next trip to the south of France, where I'll have to seek out soccas at any cost! :)
June 20, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Bizzzare. I'm going to have to throw out my old copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking because it got ruined from the water damage in my kitchen. But this morning I opened it (I tend to stick notes and recipes into books) and on the opening page I read try socca and the page number. So I google it and there you are. This is a beautiful post.
June 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTanna

Hi, great recipe! A wonderful take on the traditional socca. I'm from Nice originally and I make sure to feast on it whenever I go back home. It's a local specialty and a poor man's dish really, so you don't get it that often in restaurants -which is probably the reason why it's quite unheard of outside the Nice area. It's usually sold at markets and takeaway shops. If you ever visit the place, try Teresa's on the Cours Saleya market (can't miss it, there's always a queue).

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOphélie

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