Paneer, also known as Indian cottage cheese is fresh, unsalted white cheese popularly used in India.
Paneer is very easy to make and unlike many other cheese does not need any ageing or culturing. It being a milk product is a popular substitute for vegetarian and suits the meat-free diet of many people in India.
Paneer has soft milky taste and crumbly texture, which works really well with spices used in Indian dishes. It is one of those versatile ingredients, also being my favorite, which is used in gravies, snacks and stir-fries. Also, it does not melt that easily, so chunks of it can be fried and used in gravies. It is not just restricted to savory food-the softer version of paneer is called as chenna and is used to make very popular sweets like rasmalai and sandesh.
Interestingly, while growing up in India this was the only cheese known to me. It is quite easy to make and needs only two ingredients, in fact my mother always made it at home. Even though it is so easy to make I can’t recall even ever trying to make it myself while studying in Germany. While working in US, it was easily available in many Indian stores, so I never tried. I started making it myself only recently, of course using my mother’s tips.
The process to make paneer is quite simple, where milk is boiled and coagulated by adding acidic ingredient, like lemon or vinegar, then sieved through muslin cloth, followed by hanging and pressing to remove extra whey.
In India, my mother often used sour indian style curd, called as khatti dahi, which works very well but it is not easy to find it here. I tried few times with buttermilk but was not very successful. I started trying to use lemon but the probles there was no matter how much the curds were washed they always had leftover citrus taste. Finally I managed to fix this problem by using strained lemon juice..worked wonderfully.
Here is my recipe and few tips to make paneer at home.
2L whole milk
4 tbsp. lemon juice, sieved
Line the strainer with muslin cloth and place it over a big bowl.
Add milk to a non-stick or heavy bottom pot. Stirring the milk on medium heat bring it to boil. It takes around 12-15 minutes. Stir the milk continuously so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Watch carefully so that the milk does not boil over.
Once the milk starts to boil reduce the heat. Add 4 tbsp. of fresh lemon juice, adding 1 tbsp. at a time. As soon as you add the lemon juice, the milk starts to coagulate and greenish liquid, the whey, starts to separate. Add more lemon juice if there is still some white liquid left.
Close the heat now and let it sit for few minutes.
Pour the curdled milk over the strainer lined with muslin cloth, collecting the whey in the bowl underneath. After collecting all the whey wash it thoroughly under running water to get rid of any citrusy taste.
Tie up the ends of the muslin cloth and tighten it with help of string. Hang it for 10-12 minutes to drain away the liquid. Once the whey stops dripping, use your hands to gently squeeze any extra water.
Leave the muslin with the cheese in the sieve and top it with a plate. Press it down by using some weight on it. I used pot with water or my mortar. Leave the cheese weighed like this for 30-45 minutes at room temperature. Then place the cheese wrapped in muslin cloth in the fridge to set for couple of hours before cutting through.
Paneer can be stored in refrigerator for 4-5 days.
Always use whole milk. More the fat content, softer the paneer.
While using lemon juice to split the milk, sieve it to get rid of the citrusy fibers which are hard to wash away with water.
Wait until the milk starts to boil before adding lemon juice. Don’t boil the milk after it has curdled. Doing so will make the cheese rubbery.
To keep paneer soft in the fridge store the block soaked in water.
Don’t discard the whey. It can be used to make dough or as a stock.
Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes
Setting time: 1 hour