Thursday, June 9, 2011
The first time I encountered paneer, it was on the buffet of an Indian restaurant. I dismissed the cubes as flavorless tofu and passed it on for tikka masala and naan. Little did I know I had just turned down one of the world's simplest forms of cheese.
To make amends to this Indian delight, I purchased a half gallon of whole milk, dug out my candy thermometer, sieve and cheesecloth, and set to.
Unaged, acid set and with not a trace of salt, paneer is a great introduction to cheese making.
adapted from The Everything Indian Cookbook by Monica Bhide
the visually inclined can view the step by step process here
yields approximately one cup
8 cups whole milk
2 lemons, juiced
Bring the milk to a boil in a large pan over medium heat. Line a sieve with several layers of cheesecloth. Set aside the sieve in a clean dry sink.
Once the milk has reached the boiling point, remove the pan from the heat. Add the lemon juice slowly. The milk will begin to form a curd cheese. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture until all of the milk has curdled, about 1 to 2 minutes. You will see the curd cheese, which white, separating from the whey, a cloudy-looking liquid.
Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve to drain off the whey. When the cheese has cooled (about 20 minutes), fold the corners of the cheesecloth and squeeze to remove any remaining whey. To make the paneer firm, put it between 2 large plates and place something heavy (such as a large pot of water) on top to weigh it down. Once it has set for about 2 hours, remove the cloth.
I only used about half of my lemon juice before the milk began to curdle...taking my cue from another paneer tutorial, I added the citrus a tsp at a time. You'll be surprised how little you need.
I cooled the curds and whey in the pot before straining. And while straining I rinsed the curd with cold water to remove any remaining whey. The whey has a very tart flavor that I did not want to affect the final product.
The paneer was weighted down overnight, until I was ready to use it in a palak paneer recipe.
I made my own cheese. Seriously. How amazing is that! The flavor of the paneer was incredibly mild...sort of like a ricotta, but creamier and with a very subtle lemony aftertaste. The texture was smooth and firm, but just a touch grainy. I have read elsewhere that soaking the paneer cool water for 2-3 hours prior to use yields a more tender cheese. I was in too much of a hurry the next day to cube my creation and fry it for the palak paneer to take that extra step. Perhaps next time.
For those leery of fat content...I have read that milk other than whole can be used, but yields a much less creamy result.
The uses for the cheese are boundless...served cubed and plain, or with chutneys as an appetizer; added to a number of Indian curries--saag, palak, matter to name few; dressed up in salads; sweetened up and served for dessert. I'm going to love trying this again. And again. And again.
I have read that milk other than whole can be used, but yields a much less creamy result