27 April 2012
How to make paneer
So, cheesemaking. It's much easier than you think, and the results are well worth the whole ten minutes of active time they take.
Since Indian is one of the top cuisines we want to learn to cook, I decided to make paneer. Along with queso fresco, paneer is one of the simplest cheeses you can make. Fresh, uncured cheeses like these just take a little stovetop action and a little draining, and you're set. Or actually the cheese is set. Or both.
Cheesecloth was my main challenge, as I couldn't find it in any of the smaller downtown grocery stores I usually shop at. So I asked around and confirmed that cheesecloth is generally available as part of the spread of cooking equipment in a standard grocery store. It's kind of sad that I had to do that, though. Why isn't everybody just making cheese and in possession of packages of cheesecloth on a regular basis? I guess I will be now, though.
half gallon whole milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
salt to taste
large heavy pan
cutting boards & weight
Deposit your milk in your pan and put it over medium heat. Heat slowly so as not to scorch, stirring occasionally, until the milk just barely comes to the boil. Then turn off the heat and pour in your lemon juice. Stir to mix. Your milk will start separating, coagulating into curds floating in whey. Congratulations! You have produced cheese!
Now that you have your cheese, you need to drain it. To do this, line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey through it. Do this over another large pot if you want to use the whey for some other application.
I recommend using a bigger piece of cheesecloth than you think you need. Mine was just barely big enough to wrap around the finished ball of paneer. This meant that tying it up was a little difficult, and also that the cheese inside didn't turn out round; instead, the extra pressure of taut cheesecloth on each side made it prone to cracking in half. Avoid this if you can.
Next, pick up the edges of the cheesecloth and gather them at the top to contain your paneer. Run the ball of paneer under cold tap water, squeezing gently to work out all the remnants of lemon juice. Then tie the bundle up with kitchen twine, making a loop at the top. Hang the finished package over your kitchen faucet (or somewhere else appropriate) and let it drain for an hour or so.
After your paneer is drained, you need to press it. If you've ever pressed tofu, you know exactly what to do here. Remove your cheesecloth, slightly flatten the paneer into a reasonable patty, put it between two cutting boards, and weigh it down with a bowl of water or your choice of other weight. It's probably a good idea to put a towel or something under one end of the bottom cutting board, so the liquid you press out can run off. Give it at least an hour or so to compress.
Your paneer is now ready for whatever application you desire.
What do you make with paneer? Indian food is the obvious answer. I used this batch to make butter paneer masala from Manjula's recipe. While this tasted great, the cheese was a bit too crumbly to deep-fry with real success. In the future, I may go for a more thoroughly formed paneer. An actual tofu press lined with muslin or cheesecloth would not be a bad idea, for instance. I don't make my own tofu, so I don't have one (yet), but maybe you do! It isn't a single-purpose tool after all!
In conclusion, you just made cheese! Congratulations! Don't you feel accomplished?