For quite a while now I’ve been wanting to make my own paneer instead of paying $6 for a 12 oz package at my local ethnic grocery store. So I decided I’d call a friend who’s really good at cooking all kinds of stuff and ask if she’s ever made paneer, no such luck. Next, I called my mom (Ma or Amma). She gave me some super vague directions, “get some milk and then curdle it.” Then this last Saturday as I was sitting through an annual volunteer training at the State Penitentiary (I volunteer regularly at the State women’s prison) and the facilitator mentioned that there was an outbreak of prisoners making their own cheese and then bartering it for other valuables. Whaaat? So, I asked the facilitator “how did the inmate make cheese without a heat source or acid?” (I wanted answers, dang it) ~ the answer? “you don’t want to know, but I heard it was a pretty good Roquefort, why you want some?” then he launched into a side bar story of how two inmates got sick from homebrew made with an old potato in the toilet….
Seriously, if prisoners can make underground cheese in their cells, I ought to be able to make paneer. Turns out it’s really easy. Maybe I can barter it for other valuables.
I did have some failures and here’s what I learned. Don’t use whole milk or heavy cream because it makes the texture too soft. It turns into a delightful ricotta that can be used for other things but not paneer. Don’t use 1% or skim milk because the low-fat content makes a rubbery end product. So like Goldilocks I found the milk that was just right. Medium fat content or 2% milk is the perfect choice and although you can use buttermilk or a variety of vinegars as the source of acid, lemon juice still works the best.
Here’s the recipe:
How to make Paneer
8 cups of 2% milk
5 tbsp lemon juice thinned with 2 tablespoons of water
Tools needed: Cheese cloth and colander
In a heavy bottom pan heat milk until it boils. Make sure to stir often so that the milk doesn’t stick or begin burning at the bottom. As soon as it comes to a boil, slowly add in the lemon juice and water mixture and gently stir to incorporate. Turn off heat. Almost immediately you’ll see the curds separate out and a greenish liquid emerge. Let it sit for about 8 minutes before pouring into a cheesecloth lined colander. Gently rinse with cold water to get all the lemony smell out then squeeze the cheesecloth to get rid of as much liquid as possible. Knead the paneer for about 3-4 minutes until smooth. At this point you can use the paneer in a dessert dish like Rosgullas or Chumchums or make the paneer used for savory cooking. If using for a savory dish you can get creative and add toasted cumin seeds or chopped cilantro or salt and fresh cracked pepper to the kneaded paneer. Now you have “designer” paneer (which the Indian store wanted even more money for). Flatten out the paneer inside the cheesecloth and put it in a cookie sheet. Line the cookie sheet with several sheets of paper towel to absorb moisture and some on top of the paneer as well. Place a heavy pan (I used a cast iron skillet) or some other weight on top for about an hour or two this will take out any excess water and make a uniform size. If you want to, you might even leave it in the fridge (with the skillet and all) overnight for some really firm paneer but I found that an hour on the counter works fine. Cut into cubes or strips and cook your favorite curry!