Cornstarch puts these air fried chickpeas in a class of their own
I had abandoned air fried chickpeas entirely, until Milk Street culinary manager Wes Martin developed a method that delivered the texture I’d been seeking. The secret ended up being a common pantry ingredient, one that’s often used to thicken sauces and gravy, or stand in for starchy pasta water, should you accidentally pour yours down the drain. That ingredient is cornstarch, and it’s what sets these air fried chickpeas apart from the rest.
Cornstarch is composed of nearly one-third amylose starch, which crisps when exposed to oil and high heat. Coating chickpeas (or vegetables or chicken) in cornstarch and a bit of fat before roasting gives them a crispy coating with the texture of a light and airy batter. You can shallow fry the chickpeas in 1/4 cup of oil like we do here, but the air fryer really is the best and fastest appliance for this particular job.
Air fry for crispy chickpeas in a flash
Pedantic oven purists love to say the air fryer “doesn’t really fry anything,” and that it’s “just a convection oven,” but miss the point with both complaints. It’s true that it doesn’t truly fry, but it can crisp the exteriors of some of your favorite foods, giving them a texture that is very similar to something that had been fried, especially when you coat those foods in a small amount of oil and some starch.
It’s also true that an air fryer is a convection oven, but a tabletop convection oven is an amazing thing, particularly for people who rent or can’t afford to replace their conventional oven. Its small size is another benefit—the smaller the oven, the faster the hot whipping winds circulate around your food, and the faster that food crisps.
As far as chickpeas are concerned, all of this translates to the best texture in the shortest amount of time.
How to prep your chickpeas for air fryer success
Wes can walk you through the process on Instagram, but it’s pretty straightforward. Start by draining and rinsing a can of chickpeas, then blot them dry with paper towels. Toss with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, making sure to shake off the excess. Really shake ‘em up. You should be able to see the tan color of the chickpeas through a light dusting of starch. (If they look completely white in spots, keep shaking.)
Once the chickpeas are lightly coated with the starch, drizzle or mist them with a little oil, until they just look a little damp. Cook times will vary depending on your air fryer, so make sure to taste test a few as they cook. Air fry at 350℉ for 10-15 minutes, until they are crispy on the outside, but still tender and fluffy on the inside.
Season immediately and serve. Wes uses a mixture of 1 teaspoon each cumin and smoked paprika, along with a little sugar and salt and pepper to taste. You can also use store-bought garlic salt, an instant ramen seasoning packet, or any pre-mixed blend, like Milk Street Flavor Jolt, which gets its complex savory flavor from multiple sources of umami, including mushrooms, shio koji, and red miso. No matter how you season them, make sure to do it quickly—the heat will help the seasonings stick. They’re a great anytime snack, but particularly nice when paired with a cold beer (and maybe a football game).
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