Humble paneer is the featured ingredient in some of my favourite dishes. Yes, you can buy this cheese at the supermarket, but where’s the fun in that? Make it yourself and you can have fresh homemade paneer in half an hour. It also tastes immeasurably better.
Paneer has a fresh farmer’s cheese quality and a crumbly texture that works wonderfully with spices. It is a great source of protein, packed with vitamins and minerals and so tasty that even hardened carnivores find it hard to pass up a well-made paneer dish.
You make paneer by coagulating milk using a food acid. It is not a fermented or cured product like other cheeses. Further, it does not use rennet, making it suitable for vegetarians.
The coagulated milk solids (curds) are collected in muslin and hung or pressed with a weight. After cooling, you get a block of cottage-like cheese. Do not discard the liquid (whey) as this can be used in a number of other recipes. Whey is ideal for making bread, notably naan. It can also be used in soups and drinks. You can also use the whey as the coagulating agent for another batch of paneer.
This cheese won’t melt as mozzarella or cheddar will, but this is actually an advantage. Because it won’t melt, we can stir chunks into a soup or curry, crumble it over flatbread, or skewer cubes as kebabs to grill.
Paneer has a fairly mild, milky flavour, so it’s best when paired with strong, spicy flavours, like palak paneer. You could add spices to the cheese to lift its taste. Ajwain or toasted cumin seeds are common and you add about half a teaspoon of them when you pour the cheese into the muslin. If you intend to use this as an ingredient in another dish, I recommend keeping it simple.
And no, low-fat milk is not an acceptable substitute ingredient. You need a reasonably high milk-fat percentage to make this cheese light and fluffy. A percentage of around 8% milk-fat is ideal, hence the cream in the recipe below.
As presented here the recipe yields around 250g of cheese, which is a suitable amount for many of the paneer dishes in this cookbook. If it available, buffalo milk could be used instead of cow milk. Buffalo milk has a higher fat content and will produce more cheese. In the quantities used below, it will produce around 300g of paneer. The taste will be a little stronger
Note that this is a fresh, unaged cheese and will not last long after being made. It has no preservative agents. If you wish to store the paneer, keep it in the muslin and completely cover with whey. Keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for not more than a few days.
- 1.5 litres milk – full cream
- 200 ml pure cream
- 150 ml white vinegar
- Heat the milk in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Once the milk has warmed, add the cream and bring to a simmer, stirring continuously.
- Stop stirring and allow to come to a boil and start to rise. Immediately remove from heat and allow to settle.
- Stir the milk gently and slowly start to add the vinegar. Once it curdles, stop adding vinegar but continue stirring. The curds will coagulate and separate from the watery whey. Add a little more vinegar if there are still milk solids in the whey. Stand for 10 minutes to allow it to completely separate.
- Line a large sieve with wet muslin or cheesecloth. Place over a large bowl or saucepan.
- Strain the cheese into the sieve and gently squeeze excess the whey from the cheese. Retain the whey for other uses.
- Wrap the cheese in the cloth and return to the sieve. Place weight on top for five minutes.
- Once pressed and cooled a little, the paneer is finished and ready to eat or use.
- Only add as much vinegar to just curdle the milk. Add too much and the paneer will have a strong vinegar taste.
- You could substitute lemon juice or whey for the vinegar.
- This fresh cheese won’t last long, so make sure you use it within a few days.
- Refrigerated paneer will be firmer and less likely to crumble than fresh paneer.
- If you wish to store the paneer, keep it in the muslin and completely cover with whey. Keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
- Retain the whey for other uses. It is an ingredient for making naan, for example.