Yesterday was my first attempt at paneer. A fun cheese to make, but a strange journey for a Western girl. The whole time I was making this, I was looking for the paneer I’ve eaten in India, in Indian restaurants in the States, or even from a package at Whole Foods! But that paneer never really showed up. Instead, I got something better.
I used the Ricki Carroll recipe in Home Cheesemaking, which has only two ingredients: whole milk and lemon juice. It was a relief to have a break from all of the lab work associated with cheesemaking – calcium citrate, citric acid, etc. No special orders from web sites, no trips to Modern Brewer for rennet. This, however, is a virtue of a paneer, not of Ricki’s recipe. A decently-stocked kitchens should supply everything you need for nearly any paneer recipe:
- 1 gallon of whole milk
- 8 tablespoons of lemon juice
- Fine-weave cheesecloth
Things began well enough, with an easy set-up by the stove. But then the milk was mysteriously slow to boil. I finally resorted to my time-tested method for getting things to boil: I left the room. The milk promptly boiled, and in fact overflowed the pot. Messy but effective.
I turned the heat to low and sprinkled in the 8 tablespoons of lemon juice and stirred for 10-15 seconds with the heat at low. The curds were forming before I finished this step and turned the heat off. I then left to go for a Valentine’s Day run through the slush with my husband. When we returned in about 45 minutes we found that the curds and whey had separated nicely. We lined a colander with butter muslin above a pitcher and carefully poured the curds and whey in. The point here is to capture the whey and save it to use later, usually substituting it for water or stock.
I then twisted the corners of the muslin to squeeze the whey out and rinsed the whole thing under lukewarm water. Next I set it up in the colander with a flour canister on top for weight to squeeze out the remaining whey over the next few hours. I don’t think the colander helped here — there wasn’t so much whey that the cheese needed to be lifted out of it, and the uneven bottom may have hurt the shape of the cheese.
So, to summarize, here is how to make paneer using the ingredients listed above:
- Kept the milk over medium-low heat until it came to a boil.
- Stirred in 8 tbsp lemon juice and stirred for 10-15 seconds.
- Covered and left alone until whey had separated from curds (normally just requires 5-10 minutes).
- Set up cheesecloth over container to capture whey; poured whey and curds through cheesecloth.
- Wrapped curds in cheesecloth, placed in plastic container, and put weights above to press for 30 minutes.
The result was definitely paneer! In its raw state, the paneer tastes better and worse than it does when I buy it pre-made. It tastes extremely fresh and creamy, but it also tastes lemony. (The whey does, as well, which is very weird. Whey is notable for having almost no flavor, so a lemon flavor is odd.) The texture of the paneer seemed to me to be a bit off as well: It’s crumbly, and it lacks the characteristic “squeak” of paneer.
That said, once I cooked it the paneer was just plain killer. No texture or taste issues at all, and worlds better than what I’ve bought in the store. I would not hesitate to make this paneer recipe again.
How did I cook it, you ask? I used a Boston Globe palak paneer recipe (UPDATE: The Globe seems to have let this recipe rot. I will share a reconstructed version soon.) New recipe source for me, but I found it listed on The Kitchn. The recipe was simple. I omitted the kasoori methi – still not sure what that is – but followed everything else to the letter. I’m still not sure if I should have used the cardomom pods whole; it was pretty unpleasant when I bit into one. The only change I’m sure I’d make to this recipe is to double spinach, or else halve the paneer. As you can see from the picture, it was a pretty cheesy dish.