Wine & Food Killers: Halloumi Fries And Folias De Baco Pet Nat Renegado 2020

I’ll begin with a controversial statement: To me, most French fries – chips – are… not great.

Sure, there are always those first few transcendent fries in the bag, the ones that are still hot and crisp – the ones that cause the circuits of your brain to light up and throw off sparks at the sudden wallop of salt and starch and fat. But soon, too soon, that initial burst of activity dies down under the soddening accumulation of sogging potato and cold oil mixing together in the mouth. The textural variation, that devilish crunch, is lost, and with it the most interesting thing about the fry. Chips’ lifespans are so short they make mayflies seem long in the tooth.

As a result of this opinion – which seems to alarm or anger most people I know – I tend to go for alterna-chips instead. I like the richness and custardy interior of a sweet potato fry. Okra fries? Absolutely. And ever since I tried Oli Baba’s halloumi fries at some street food market four or five or six years back, they have had a spot on the Good Chips list.

The idea, though simple, is ingenious: "What if chips, but cheese?" someone must once have asked. The best bit is – as long as you have a frying pan and some oil, and you’re not afraid to use them – you can make halloumi chips in just a few minutes. The prep amounts to as simple a directive as: Slice cheese. Heat oil. Fry. Toppings are a place to add personalisation, and I’ve riffed on Oli Baba’s Mediterranean take with a minty, garlicky yoghurt sauce, pomegranate molasses and seeds, as well as fresh mint. To add a bit of heat, I’ve also sprinkled mine with fruity Aleppo chilli flakes, though you can use any chilli flakes on hand.

Here’s another opinion: I think most Pét Nats are really best as park wines – casual wines, snacking wines – than dinner partners. Take Folias de Baco’s Pet Nat Renegado. Hailing from Portugal’s Douro region, it’s made from a blend of 25 red and white grapes, enjoys poppy carbonic maceration and is bottled mid-fermentation. The result is crunchy as a cranberry, tart as an early-season raspberry, biting with acidity and overflowing with bubble (seriously, keep a glass nearby when you open yours – mine almost crescendoed into a waterfall of fuchsia fizz).

Whether or not it’s warm enough to go to the park with a bottle and a basket of snacks, this is the ultimate aperitif-hour kinda wine: Fun, vibey, here
for a laugh. You could go with any manner of traditional aperitif snacks – ham, crackers, olives, why not – but given how well acidity and carbonation cut through salt and fat, the halloumi fry here meets its good-time match.

Halloumi Fries
Adapted from Oli Baba's Serves 2 for a meal or
4 for a snack

For the yoghurt sauce:
100g full-fat Greek yoghurt
Large pinch flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 teaspoons minced garlic 2 teaspoons dried mint leaves

For the halloumi fries:
500g full-fat halloumi
1 litre (approx.) vegetable or other neutral frying oil
2 teaspoons Aleppo chilli flakes (substitute regular chilli flakes)
1-2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
Large handful pomegranate seeds
Large handful fresh mint leaves, torn

1. First, make your yoghurt sauce. Add all ingredients to a small bowl and mix to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. The sauce should be just thin enough to drizzle; if it’s not, add additions of water by the tablespoon until it reaches your preferred consistency.

2. Next, prepare your halloumi fries. Place a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan over high heat and add the vegetable oil; it should come roughly 2/3 up the sides (add more if needed). As the oil preheats, slice your halloumi into roughly ½-inch-thick pieces. Pat them dry with paper towels, to help reduce splattering once they enter the hot oil.

3. Once the oil reaches 180° Celsius, using tongs, add four or five halloumi pieces; they should bubble vigorously immediately – they may spit at first, so use caution. Flip regularly and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until they are a deep golden brown on all sides. Remove with the tongs, letting any excess oil drip off, and transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. While they are still just fresh out of the fryer, sprinkle over the chilli flakes.

4. Repeat with the remaining batches of halloumi (make sure you work in relatively small batches so the pan doesn’t overcrowd and they don’t risk sticking together). To keep the cooked halloumi warm as you fry, transfer to a serving dish and place in the oven at its lowest setting.

5. Once the halloumi is fried, dress right away: Drizzle over the yoghurt sauce (you may want to hold some back as an additional dipping sauce on the side) as well as the pomegranate molasses. Sprinkle over the pomegranate seeds and the torn mint leaves. Serve immediately, when still hot.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Don’t miss out on Claire’s wine and food pairings, which go out every month in our Natural Wine Killers subscription box