Friday, March 26, 2010

How to Make Paneer!

For the Indian feast I made in my previous post, I made my own paneer (cheese)! I got the recipe from one of my cookbooks, though subsequently I found plenty of recipes on the web. It's just milk+lemon juice+technique!

I specifically got some whole milk for this project.  Whenever I'm making these milk-thickening recipes, I assume when they say "milk" (especially in my old 60's recipes!) they mean whole milk. I don't mess around with lowfat versions that might not work until I make it properly at least once!

First you bring 4 cups of milk to a boil on the stove. I won't bore you with a picture of this. Then you add 2 Tbsp. of lemon juice, and "stir gently" until it curdles up and thickens.  I won't gross you out with a picture of this, because it looks pretty nasty! It didn't exactly "thicken", but the curds got more numerous.  I had it going maybe 20 minutes, but subsequent research shows that you probably only need about 5.  Oh well, I wasn't sure what I was doing and the recipe didn't specify. Anyway, now the fun begins!

After you get your curds, you strain them out from the whey.
I read afterwards that you can keep the whey and do other projects with it, but it seemed kind of gross to me so I dumped it down the sink. Maybe next time!
You lift up your curds and squeeze out more whey, then gather everything into a sort of patty. I think I should have folded or rearranged the cheesecloth so as not to have that twist, results of which you'll see below.

Next, you press your cheesecloth bundle under something heavy! I also sandwiched it between 2 cutting boards (seemed like a good idea) and used a cookie sheet for a drip tray.  I have some vague memory of cheesemaking from Reading Rainbow and lots of whey is still extracted as it sits there!

My cast iron dutch oven is really heavy, and you want something like this, to really press it down!  And sure enough, I was glad I had the tray. Leave it sit for 1.5-2 hours to do its thing.
Next, you unwrap it and you're pretty much done!
I used the paneer in a malai palak recipe, and it was super tasty! Pretty much identical to paneer I've had in restaurants.  Now that I've gone through this process, I think it's pretty hard to go wrong. That is to say, it's easy!! The paneer on its own was a bit boring; I highly recommend putting it in a flavorful dish (and heating it up a little).

Oh, and be warned: as with all milk-reducing recipes, the milk goes away!  4 cups only yields about a 4" diameter by 0.5" tall little wheel.  But that was all I needed for my other recipe, really.

Now that I've done this, I'm curious to try some of the other fresh cheese recipes out there, like mozzarella!  Has anyone done this? Don't you need rennet, which doesn't seem to be available anywhere? Tips? If I could have my own mozzarella with my own basil and own cherry tomatoes this summer, I would be SET. :)

By the way, if you want any of the recipes in the previous post, let me know!

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