Paneer (or panir) is one of the easiest cheeses to make, partly because it isn’t a cheese at all. Similar to ricotta and labne, paneer is a curd, a coagulation, formed by acidifying milk at a high temperature. Doesn’t sound very sexy but believe me it is.
Drain the curds for a short time and then beat them and you end up with chhenna, a soft curd that can be used to make Kofta or be sweetened into a dessert. Continue to drain the chhenna and you end up with paneer, which is firm enough to cut with a knife and fry.
Just like tofu, the paneer has more texture than flavour. Depending on how much you press it, it will have a bite anywhere from a soft feta to a fried haloumi. And if you use it in curry, it will soak up the flavours it sits with and become more flavourful with time.
I’ll post a series of recipes using paneer over the next few weeks (the first is up now: Matar Paneer). Until then, try it out, press it to different textures, and enjoy the immediate kitchen cred you get from being a cheese maker!
- 8 cups whole organic milk (preferably unpasteurised)
- 60ml lemon or lime juice (maybe a little more if necessary)
- 2 large pieces of fine muslin
Strain the lemon juice through a fine sieve and set aside. Pour the milk into a large heavy based saucepan and start to heat on a medium flame, stirring reasonably often to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom or sides. When the milk comes to the boil (sometimes this is hard to see, but the milk with be very frothy on top and will seem quite ‘active’ underneath), stir the lemon juice into the milk and then let it sit for a few seconds more on a low flame.
After a half minute or so, you will see the milk start to separate into curds and whey. If necessary, shake the pan to pull the curd away from the sides of the pot, or gently drag a wooden spoon in from the edge to see if solids are forming, but don’t stir the pot again. Curds are delicate things.
If nothing much seems to be happening, put the pot back on a flame for a seconds longer. If nothing still happens, then perhaps your lemon juice is rather weak. Add some more, or use a tablespoon of vinegar to pep up the acidity.
Sit a colander in a pot and then line the colander with the two pieces of muslin, each folded in half (so you should have four layers of muslin lining the colander). Once the liquid part of the milk is no longer white but more of a yellow, you can carefully pour the curds into the colander and allow the whey to drain into the pot. Don’t throw the whey away. It’s useful for many things including cooking stock.
As the whey drains, fold the muslin up and over the curds and tie opposite sides of the muslin together. Squeeze the curds gently to release most of the whey and then rinse the outside of the muslin under a running tap of cold water. Hang the curds in an airy place for a couple of hours to drain fully.
They can be used at this stage, or pressed further to make a firmer curd. lay the muslin covered curd on a plate and place a heavy pot filled with water or cans on top of it. Steady the edges of the pot with some appropriate sized jars under its handles. Let it press for 4 hours, or even overnight.
When finished, wrap and put in the fridge, but try to use the cheese as soon as possible in the next couple of days so it maintains its freshness. Paneer can be delicate and crumbly, so most recipes will call for you to fry the paneer slightly before you add it to curries or rice dishes.
This recipe is part of Real Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday Carnival.