So, I can be lazy.
That’s the only excuse I can possibly have for not making my own paneer regularly.
Paneer, for those who don’t know, is the only native cheese of India, and is made by heating milk to a boil and then adding an acid such as lemon juice or white vinegar, and stirring off the heat until the curds form.
Then you strain out the whey, rinse the curds, and squeeze out the moisture, then press as much moisture out of the cheese as possible with a heavy weight.
The active part of the cheesemaking takes about twenty minutes or so. No really. And then you let it get pressed for three to five hours, until it is a firm as you want it to be.
Now you see that I really have had no excuse whatsoever for not making paneer often.
Except for laziness.
And that’s no real excuse.
Especially once you -taste- homemade paneer. It is so superior to even the best commercial paneer in flavor and texture that they seem almost as if they are two different foods altogether. They really shouldn’t be compared. It just isn’t fair to the stuff you buy in the store.
And once you cook with it and taste it in say, muttar paneer–you will be spoiled forever. I mean it. For real. FOREVER.
So, I am guessing that I’ll be making paneer about every other week or so from now on.
I can hear Zak weeping over it from here. (He puts up with so much crap from me; I don’t even know how he does it.)
This first batch of paneer I made with Snowville Creamery Half & Half instead of whole or two percent milk. I had read about making paneer this way in Raghavan Iyer’s excellent 660 Curries and wanted to give it a try. He said he made paneer this way for a creamier mouthfeel, and I was curious about how it would go.
The cheese came together very easily–and the curds were a rich ivory color from the butterfat from the pastured cows, and silken smooth. I worried for a while that it would be too soft to fry up at all, even after pressing, but though it was more delicate than commercially made paneer, I could still fry it just fine.
There are a couple of tricks to it, though.
One, be sure your oil and pan are heated all the way before you put the cheese in. If you put the cheese in too soon it will start to melt before frying and make an UGLY MESS (tm, patent pending.) Not a good thing.
Two, be advised that this paneer will be more moist than commercial paneer–mainly because it is not being pressed in a big old machine to get all the whey out–so, when you fry it–it will sputter and pop sizzling hot oil even more than the stuff from the store. If you can believe it. Oy. Wear long sleeves and eye protection. No low-necked shirts, either. You know, now that I think on it, a balaclava wouldn’t have been a bad idea either.
Three–it browns faster than the commercial brands I’ve fried–and I’ve fried lots of them both at home and in a restaurant kitchen. AND, because it browns faster, I’d suggest putting fewer cubes of it in the pan so you have fewer bits to worry about at one time. You have to turn them quicker.
And then we come to four. This particular style of homemade paneer is fairly fragile, probably because of its lower protein content. Remember, protein is what holds cheese together, so keep in mind that if you make your paneer with half & half, you have to handle it gently when you fry it and turn it. I used a spatula in one hand and a table fork in the other and was as deft as humanly possible and even so I still broke a few pieces. So, be careful and treat this higher-fat paneer with kid gloves and kindness.
Or, you could be a sensible person and use whole milk instead of half & half! (Or do what I plan on doing next and use one quart of whole milk and one of half & half–that way you are still adding a bit more fat for a creamier texture, but not so much that the cheese is so finicky to fry.
Speaking of texture–the cheese is like firm cream cheese in texture. Very firm cream cheese. And it is similar in flavor–very rich, like the veritable essence of milk. When fried, the outside turns into a crisp lacy crust that gives way to an airy-light melting richness. It’s very hard to describe, but it is heavenly. In fact, I am convinced that if there are angels, that they eat food that is like this paneer–something that is crisp and light and rich and silky all at the same time.
Don’t you want to try to make something that angels would eat in your very own kitchen? Don’t you? Come on, you do, I know you do. And it is SO easy. It really is. Simple. Simple, simple.
Use this recipe and give it a shot–then turn it into any one of the paneer recipes I will list at the end for you. You won’t be sad that you did it. You won’t regret it. You will be happy, and you tastebuds will be happy and your family and friends will be happy.
You want to be happy, don’t you?
Then dance on into your kitchen and start makin’ yourself some cheese!
The Richest Paneer Ever
2 quarts of half & half–the best you can get (or, use 1 quart of whole milk and 1 of half & half for a firmer, less rich cheese)
1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar
Wash out your sink really well. I mean it. Squeaky clean. Cleanliness is necessary when playing with dairy product. Then take out your colander and line it with several layers of clean cheesecloth. I used four.
Put half and half or the half and half and milk mixture in a heavy bottomed, deep pot. Cook, stirring often, over medium heat until the milk comes to a boil. Do now allow the milk to scorch.
When the milk has boiled, turn off the heat and add the vinegar all at once and stir gently. Immediately, you will see curds begin to form, and the milk will separate into creamy colored curds and a greenish, thin, watery whey.
When all of the curds have formed–which should take about three to five minutes of gentle, slow stirring off heat–pour the contents of the pot gently into your prepared colander. Run cold water over the curds in the colander until they cool just enough for you to touch them.
With very clean hands, rinse and work the curds through the water stream, rinsing assiduously in order to remove the vinegar and as much of the whey as is possible.
When the rinsing is done, and you will know if you poke your nose near your cheese–it should have no vinegar scent left to it at all. It should in fact smell just like fresh, delicious milk–gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and squeeze the ball of curds within it, twisting it up tightly in the cloth so that as much whey as you can get out is forced from the cheese into the sink.
When you have squeezed the cheese until you hands hurt (that sounds vaguely naughty), remove the colander from the sink and place it in a larger bowl that will hold it. Put the cheese, still wrapped up in the cloth, into the colander and flatten it out nicely. Then, put something or somethings heavy on top of it.
I used my granite Thai mortar and pestle, with an eight pound free weight plate set on top of it.
Leave the cheese alone to be pressed and drained–dairy products like a little privacy when they are being magically transmuted from one delicious form into another more delicious form. Leave it for three to five hours–for firmer paneer–press it longer.
(In retrospect, if I’d had the time, I think that my paneer might not have been so sputtery and spitty in the frying pan if I had enough time for a full five our press. But, I could only spare three and a half hours, so sometimes you takes what you can gets….)
When the pressing is finished, take the weights off the cheese, unwrap it from its mummification bandages and set it on a plate or cutting board and admire it.
Then, carefully cut it into cubes and pan fry it as described in my recipe for methi malai paneer
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