How To Make Your Own Halloumi & Cook It To Perfection
I will keep the pre-amble at the top of this blog short so we can get right onto the making of some delicious, salty fried cheese. But first I should apologise to those of you that follow the blog regularly for not having posted much recently. I’m really busy with a couple of big projects and I’ve been working on a lot of new stuff including ideas, techniques and dishes which will soon be put together in a new book due out for early 2015 I hope. Rest assured there will be lots of exciting stuff coming next year, some great new projects and announcements and lots more on the blog to accompany all this.
That out of the way here I’m going to give you my recipe and technique for making your own halloumi. It's really satisfying to make your own cheese, and for delicious cheese making at home or in a restaurant a salty, brined, fried cheese like this is a great rewarding project.
I’ll take you through the process of making halloumi and the adaptations/modernisations I’ve made to the process to suit my purposes, then I’ll take you through how to cook your finished halloumi to fulfil its full potential.
Basically Halloumi is a salty cheese with a high melting point, so it can be fried, grilled and cooked sous vide. Traditionally it is made with a mix of sheep and goats milk, however after a few test batches I found cows milk worked best for me (I’m sure this will upset some purists but cows milk honestly gave me my best results), but feel free to try whichever milk suits you best.
For my method I use both a chamber vacuum sealer and a temperature controlled water bath in the process of making my halloumi. These are fantastically helpful and allow me to get exactly the result I want but you could still follow my technique if you don’t have access to this equipment, just make some slight alterations and be aware you might not get quite the same quality results.
I also choose to shape my Halloumi into a sausage shape, rather than the traditional folded block. I do this so it cooks nice and evenly and portions well into rounds (which suits how I serve it), but feel free to shape it as you want.
Finally when we come to cooking the finished cheese I give you some options but my favourite method is to cook the halloumi sous vide with fresh mint, butter and lemon zest, then finish it with a quick high heat sear just before serving. I do discuss some other cooking options as well though and it will depend on your equipment and circumstances which method is best for you.
As with all cheese making make all your surfaces are clean and where possible sterilise equipment, pans and cheese cloth with boiling water before you begin.
So bellow you'll find my recipe and method broken down into stages, along with some pictures. I hope you'll find it interesting and useful.
Stage 1 - Making the Curds
4 Litres whole cows milk
2g Liquid vegetarian rennet mixed with 50g mineral water
0.5g Calcium chloride dissolved in 50g mineral water
Before starting this step I should just highlight that it's important to make sure to remember to reserve the whey after making the curds in this first step as you will need the whey for a later cooking step.
So to start off making the curds slowly heat the milk to 32°C in a large pan over a low heat.
While the milk is warming dissolve the calcium chloride in 50g of mineral water. Then stir this in to the warm milk.
Once the milk hits 32°C dilute the vegetarian rennet into 50g of mineral water and then stir this in to the warm milk.
Now remove the milk from the heat and allow it to sit for 45 minutes to coagulate. When you return to the pan you should find the milk is set into a delicate curd.
Now use a large sharp knife to cut the curds in the pan in a crisis cross. Then slowly heat the mixture to 40°C over a low heat, stirring gently occasionally. Once the curds reach 40°C remove the pan from the heat and leave it to sit again for another 30 minutes.
Now pour the curds through a double layer of cheese cloth in a sieve set over a bowl to collect the curds in the cheese cloth and reserve the whey in the bowl underneath. Then collect the edges of the cheese cloth and squeeze the curds to remove as much of the whey as possible from them.
Stage 2 - Shaping the Curds
Now we'll heat the curds up to 50°C, the easiest way to do this is using short 15 second blasts in the microwave , squeezing the curds gently between blasts to remove more whey, until the curds reach 50°C (note if you find the curds uncomfortably hot to handle you can wear clean rubber gloves while doing this).
Once heated to 50°C the curds should come together and be easy to work with and shape.
Now you can form the curds into the desired shape. At this stage I prefer to shape my curds into a sausage shape. I use a clean sheet of cheese cloth to roll the curds and tighten them into my desired uniform sausage shape or torchon. There is a bit of a knack to this if you are not used to this technique.
Once you have formed a neat tube tighten the cheese cloth at both ends by twisting, then tie the ends to secure the shape.
Finally I place each of these wrapped Halloumi torchons into vacuum bags and vacuum pack them, this applies pressure to the wrapped Halloumi evenly from all sides, performing the same job as traditional pressing of the curds but preserving the shape I want. Then place the vac packed curds in the fridge for 2 hours to cool and firm up.
(Note - as an alternative, if you don't want to follow my method as I've described of shaping the curds, at this stage you could instead simply form small cheese cloth parcels of the curds and place a heavy weight on them to press them until the curds firm up.)
Stage 3 - Cooking the Curds in Whey
500g Whey (saved from making the curds)
The next step in giving the Halloumi its distinctive texture is cooking the pressed curds in whey. I do this sous vide which helps to keep the cooking controlled and means there is no risk of the curds catching on the bottom of a pan (which can happen if cooking in a pan on a stove top).
First off take 500g of the whey reserved from the last stage and mix in 10g of salt.
Now open the vacuum packed curds and unwrap them from the cheese cloth. Then in a fresh bag vacuum these set curds with the salted whey and cook in the waterbath at 90°C for 2 hours. Then after 2 hours cool the bags rapidly in ice water.
Stage 4 - Brining the Cooked Curds
30g Salt (15%)
1g Dried mint (0.5%)
The final stage is to brine the cooked curds.
First prepare a brine by combining 200g water, 30g salt and 1g dried mint.
Now open the cooled bags the halloumi was cooked in with the whey and strain off the whey.
Cut each tube of the halloumi into two in the centre and place four of these pieces of halloumi in a vacuum bag. Then pour the mint brine into the bag to cover the halloumi.
Now vacuum these bags of brined halloumi and store in the fridge. Leave the halloumi in the brine for at least 24 hours before serving it.
I can't advise you on exactly how long the Halloumi safely stores in its brine in the fridge but I personally feel confident to serve it at least a month after preparing it. And it actually appears to be ok for up to three months after its made. But as I don’t have the resources to establish it’s safe storage period with certainty the suggestions I give here are just opinion and you'll have to judge for yourself.
Cooking with your finished Halloumi -
You could cook your halloumi by traditional methods - on the grill, bbq or pan frying etc, but personally I think you get the best result by cooking the halloumi sous vide. Cooking it longer at a low temperature gives you a beautifully soft, moist finished product which isn’t squeaky or dry as halloumi can become with some other cooking methods.
Sous Vide and Pre-sear vs Post-sear
If you are able to cook the halloumi sous vide you will still want to brown the cheese for the delicious Maillard reaction browning flavours and a slight crust on the outside to contrast the soft cooked cheese centre.
This leads us to the question of whether to pre-sear or post-sear the halloumi when cooking sous vide. Basically do you want to brown the cheese lightly first then vac bag it and cook in the waterbath or cook it in the waterbath first then sear the cheese quickly just before serving it.
For sous vide halloumi pre or post searing both have their advantages depending on the circumstances you are cooking in. Generally when possible my preference is the post sear method. I think the halloumi has the best texture and stays as moist as possible if it is cooked sous vide first and finished with a quick high heat post sear just before serving.
However, the Halloumi then has to be served quite quickly after searing to keep its texture, so if you wanted to serve a number of portions at once this could be tricky to do. Therefore if you're are cooking in larger batches and want to serve a lot of portions at the same time I suggest pre-searing the halloumi because it can be done in advance so the halloumi can be vac bagged and cooked sous vide and when ready to serve you simply have to cut open a bag and plate the halloumi up.
Basically in an ideal world I would cook the halloumi sous vide and finish with a post sear but when I was cooking for an event and had to do 30 portions of this to go all at the same time I used the pre-sear method and that worked great and took the pressure off service.
A final note on searing, I recently finally received my ‘Searzall’ from http://bookeranddax.com/searzall which I had backed as a kickstarter and this is more or less the perfect tool if you are cooking a couple of portions at a time and want to finish them with a quick, high heat, post-sear. If you don’t have one then a hot pan will do the job too.
Cooking - Sous Vide Time and Temperature
Having chosen to cook your handmade halloumi sous vide and decided whether to pre or post sear your finished halloumi here is the detail of the sous vide cooking method.
Obviously if you are pre-searing the cheese do that before the sous vide cooking step and allow the cheese to cool before vacuuming, then ignore the post-sear instructions and just serve straight after removing from the vac bag.
Cut your halloumi into 1.5cm thick rounds. You want 4 or 5 rounds of halloumi per portion.
In a vacuum bag place 8 to 10 rounds of halloumi, the zest of a lemon, 25g butter and a few fresh mint leaves.
Seal the bag and then cook the halloumi at 85°C for 1.5 hours.
Finally remove the halloumi from the water bath and finish it quickly with a high heat post-sear in a hot pan or using the Searzall (or your preferred method). Then serve the halloumi as soon as possible, as the texture is best just after cooking. (If you had already pre-seared the halloumi before cooking sous vide then simply serve it hot straight after the sous vide cooking step).
I hope this is helpful and of interest to you guys.
Loads more stuff to come and I’m sat on a lot of new material and projects I look forward to getting out into the light of day next year.