Tricks for cooking haloumi
I have never successfully fried New Zealand haloumi. When I was in England I used to make a simple dish of fried sliced leeks and cubed haloumi. When I make it here (using "Cypriot-style" Zany Zeus haloumi) it turns into a sticky mess. Any tips?
Funnily enough, I recommended Zany Zeus haloumi in this column just a few weeks ago as I find it absolutely delicious and I wish the British brands were halfway as good. It is creamier, it does melt more than the British-sourced ones, but I love that it does this, as it seems like a hybrid between firmer haloumi and mozzarella.
In Britain, whenever I write a recipe for the media, I often say to soak the haloumi before cooking it. That is a trick I learnt from friends in Istanbul to produce the best-finished recipes.
Slice a block 1-2cm thick and soak in hot water for at least three hours to make it more supple and remove excess salt (used to preserve the cheese). One way we've been cooking haloumi at my restaurants in Auckland is to soak slices as described (if not using Zany Zeus), then wrapping them in bottled vine leaves before grilling or frying them.
The vine leaves are salty and become slightly crispy, which is great when served as the base for a salad, but it may not suit breakfast dishes or the like. There are several brands of European-made haloumi available in New Zealand, as well as some more firm locally made brands, so I'm sure if you look around you'll find something you're happier with.
You can also grill haloumi from above and it becomes less runny - just lay it in a non-stick pan or on lightly oiled foil (not paper) and put under the grill until coloured. Leave it to firm up for a few minutes before cutting into shape and using as you describe. I'm thinking that placing the haloumi in a small tub surrounded with rock salt might also help firm it up - in the same way that soaking firm cheese in water makes it softer. As I can't get my hands on soft haloumi, you might be able to tell me if this works.
Put it in salt for two days before gently rinsing off the salt and excess moisture (which will have come from the cheese). One of the main reasons this cheese can vary from country to country is that in Cyprus, where it originated in Byzantine times, it must be made from a mixture of sheep and goat's milk.
In other countries it is often made from cow's milk and the variations in milk will have a huge impact on the finished cheese. Feta, also from the Byzantine period but originating in Crete, is another cheese made traditionally from only ewe's milk (although it can contain less than 30 per cent goat's milk) and when you compare an authentic Greek feta with Danish cow's milk feta, it is entirely different.
Still, a good cheese is a good cheese and no matter what it's called outside of the European Union, where we're lucky to have PDOs in place (Protected Designation of Origin) to ensure an ongoing historical reference point to traditional foods, it's good to know that New Zealand is capable of producing some great cheese that we're adapting to our own uses.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you’re stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.