Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I have been meaning to post about making paneer pretty much since I started this blog, more than a year ago. Paneer is traditional Indian cheese, similar in taste and texture to ricotta. While ricotta is traditionally made from whey, paneer is made from the curds produced from adding an acid to boiling milk. It is a very mild cheese that is popular in many savory and sweet Indian dishes. It is also not very difficult to make at home.
Here are the two most helpful tips I can give about making paneer. (1) Milk is not as innocent as it seems: it can go from hot, to boiling to burnt in a matter of seconds. (2) To achieve a nice, firm, paneer like the kind you can buy in Indian grocery stores, you must drain out ALL of the water from the cheese. The easiest way is to press the paneer under heavy weight.
To prepare, place a colander lined with cheesecloth in the sink.
Then begin heating a gallon of milk in a large heavy-bottomed pan. The milk must be heated slowly and stirred constantly until it comes to the boil. Be very careful to heat the milk slowly, and stir constantly to prevent it from burning.
Once the milk reaches a boil, stir in a half cup of lemon juice or vinegar. The milk will immediately begin to separate into a liquid (whey) and curds. Continue stirring for another minute or two.
Now carefully pour the contents of the pot into the lined colander. Be very carefully since the liquid will be extremely hot. Every time I do this step, it breaks my heart a little to have to throw out the whey. But even after lots of google searching, I still have not found a use for it.
Rinse the paneer with a bit of cold water just so it is warm enough to handle. Then try to squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can using your hands.
The paneer needs to be drained of its liquid, and depending on how firm you'd like it, this could take anywhere from 2 hours to overnight. Most savory Indian dishes require a firm block of paneer, but many desserts call for a softer paneer that can be achieved with 2-3 hours of draining.
My go-to method for draining is to place the paneer (still in the cheesecloth) on a cutting board that is slighty hanging over the sink. Then on top, I place as much weight as possible as I can -- some iron skillets, cans of tomato sauces, textbooks that I don't feel like reading, etc.
This is what the paneer should look like after being drained overnight. The texture will be just like the kind you find in the Indian grocery stores, but the taste will be at least 10 times better.
Here is what it looks like cut up. Anyone want to take a guess as to what I made with this?
* 8 cups (half gallon) milk
* 1/2 cup lemon Juice or vinegar
1. Place a colander in the sink and line with a large piece of cheesecloth.
2. In a heavy bottomed pot, over medium heat, cook the milk, stirring occasionally, making sure not it does not burn.
3. As the milk comes to a boil, gradually stir in the lemon juice or vinegar. The curd will begin separating from the whey. Cook for an additional minute, then remove the pot from the heat.
4. Pour the liquid into the prepared colander. Wrap the curds in the cloth and gently rinse under cold water for a few seconds. Then, using your hands, squeeze the cloth to remove the excess water. This also helps to remove some of the sourness from the lemon juice/vinegar.
5. To drain the liquid, place the curds wrapped in the cheesecloth on a cutting board. Place a heavy pan (cast iron works well) on top. Then place a few cans in the pan. Drain for at least 2 hours and at most overnight. The longer the cheese is drained, the firmer the final product.