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Paneer frontier.

Why would I, a non-Indian food blogger, write about Indian food when you could easily read about it on blogs written by Indians? I’ll tell you why: I, unlike most Indians, harness the power of the Germans. As a Korean-American who likes to make Indian cheese with German ingredients for use in Italian dishes, I’m one step shy of hosting a United Nations conference in my own kitchen. Curiosity piqued? Read on.

Paneer is a fresh cheese used in savory dishes like mutter paneer (peas and paneer in a rich red sauce) or in sweet treats like the divine ras malai. Fresh paneer can be pressed to create a texture similar to that of firm (not silken) tofu for savory dishes or kneaded with sugar to a soft smooth texture for use in desserts. You’ll often see advice to substitute firm tofu for pressed paneer if you don’t have paneer on hand. In my opinion, paneer has an unmistakable fresh dairy flavor that tofu’s, er, tofuiness lacks, but in a flavorful dish like saag paneer that may be acceptable.

[Pictured: Sheet of pressed paneer cubed with a pizza cutter.]

paneer

Paneer is easy to make but takes time. Basically you boil milk, add an acid, strain out the curds, and press the curds. Exact methods vary. Some people boil the milk for a while, others bring the milk just to a boil, some take the milk off the heat after adding the acid, some boil the milk with the acid for a while, and so on. Unless you need an especially soft paneer to use in a dessert, I find that the exact method doesn’t matter much. What does matter is the acid you use—either white vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, yogurt, or whey left over from a previous batch of paneer.

Whey supposedly yields the softest paneer, but since I make paneer only a few times a year, I don’t generally have leftover whey on hand. Yogurt is an interesting suggestion that I haven’t tried because one of the greatest draws of homemade paneer is that it’s dirt cheap, and the cost of the yogurt used often exceeds the cost of the milk to make the paneer. When I’ve made homemade yogurt I’d rather just eat it or use it in other dishes. Citrus juices add a pleasant sour flavor but can also add to the price of the paneer unless you have a lemon tree. White vinegar adds that disctintive acetic acid flavor plus a trace paint thinner taste, probably because white vinegar is only about 5% acid, leaving 95% Something Else. Other vinegars such as red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or ::gasp:: balsamic vinegar have flavor profiles that are just, well, wrong.

Which brings us to the Germans. Koreans often use vinegar in many kinds of namul, vegetable side dishes served with rice. At some point many Korean-Americans (not sure about Koreans) started using Surig, a high-acid German vinegar with a clean, pure flavor superior to that of distilled white vinegar. If you don’t have a German grocer, try looking for Surig at the Korean grocer. Because of the high acidity, you need only about a fourth or a fifth the amount of Surig that you’d need of white vinegar, giving you less Something Else to add off-flavors to your paneer. I recommend it for use in savory dishes where the acetic acid flavor won’t be a problem. In sweet dishes I’d stick to lemon or lime juice. Failing that, white vinegar works just fine, but you’ll no longer be welcome in German Club. Nein!

EIN PANEER REZEPT, JA!
Makes about 4 cups of lightly packed half-inch paneer cubes

Special equipment:
· Big pot
· Colander
· Cheesecloth
· Something heavy, preferably not alive

Ingredients:
· 1 gallon lowfat (2%) milk, allowed to come to room temperature (optional, but saves time)
· 1 tablespoon Surig, maybe more,
     OR 4 tablespoons white distilled vinegar, maybe more,
     OR the juice of 2 lemons, maybe more,
     OR the juice of 3 limes, maybe more

1) Line a large colander with 4 layers of cheesecloth cut large enough to dangle generously over the edges. Place in sink.

2) Pour milk into a large pot with at least 3 inches of spare space above the milk. You’ll thank me for this extra space later. Bring milk to a boil on medium heat. High heat may burn the milk and make a funky paneer (bad funky, not good funky), so err on the side of lower heat. A non-stick pan helps if you have one that big. Stir frequently.

3) When the milk boils and starts to foam up but not over your generous 3-inch margin of safety (you’re welcome), blow hard on the milk to keep the foam under control, then add your acid. Stir for about 15 seconds. The solids should separate out and leave behind a greenish translucent whey. If you don’t see that greenish color and a distinct separation of solids and liquids, add a bit more acid and stir again for 15 seconds. Repeat as needed. Results will vary depending on the kind of milk you use and the acid employed.

4) After the curds and whey have separated, turn off the heat and carefully pour the contents of the pot into the lined colander. Let the visible whey drain out for several minutes, then carefully pull up the edges of the cheesecloth and lift up your paneer to drain some more. At this point some people like to tie up the corners of the cloth into something resembling one of those packs that hobos always carry on sticks in old cartoons and hang the paneer up to drain. I’m lazy and prefer to go straight to the pressing step.

5) Place the cheesecloth on a flat surface such as a heat-proof cutting board and carefully cover the paneer with even layers of the cheesecloth edges, lifting and shaping the paneer into a flat rectangle as you do so. Slide one edge of the cutting board over the sink then place a folded towel under the other edge to slightly slant the board so that the whey drains into the sink. Place a large flat item such as a plate or a tray on top of the paneer, then place a heavy weight on top of that, making sure the paneer is being pressed flat and level. I use barbell weights, but some people like Encyclopedia Britannica volumes A through H. Whatever you use, let the paneer flatten and drain for a few hours. The longer its pressed, the firmer the paneer will be.

6) Remove the paneer from the cheesecloth and cut into desired shapes and sizes. Store paneer in refrigerator or freeze for future use, though it’s best fresh. Many recipes call for frying the cubes in ghee, but I consider that an optional step unless the paneer will be eaten plain.

Flavored paneer: You can add salt and other herbs and spices to the paneer. Mix them in with the crumbled paneer before pressing. Yum.

Different milks: Whole milk yields softer, richer paneer; skim milk yields grainy, rubbery paneer. Lowfat milk is a good compromise between flavor and health.

Reduced batches: The recipe can easily be halved, quartered, maybe even reduced some more. If you have milk on the brink of going bad, this is a great way to use it up.

On whey: According to King Arthur Flour, leftover whey is highly nutritious and due to its acidic nature has an effect like buttermilk or vinegar in baking. More information and a recipe. To save some whey, put your colander over a large heatproof container to catch the draining liquid. Lift the colander up and out of the whey, remove the container, then continue as directed. Things will be hot, so use caution.

Nutrition: According to New Indian Home Cooking by Madhu Gadia, each 1/2 cup of paneer cubes (an eighth of this batch) made with lowfat milk has 160 calories, 4 g carbs, 16 g protein, 9 g fat, and 36 mg cholesterol.

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bullet Food link recommendation
· My favorite Germany-based food blog, written in English: the gorgeous delicious days.
· My favorite Indian food blog, written in English by an Indian living in the U.S.: Mahanandi, frequently updated with amazing recipes and Indian food facts.
Explore posts in the same categories: Dairy, Indian

17 Comments on “Paneer frontier.”

  1. maomau Says:

    wow, i give u props for making cheese from scratch. i would have just gone out to buy it.

  2. Annie Says:

    maomau: Ha, thanks. At $2 for a gallon of milk, the homemade paneer definitely has the edge when it comes to my pocketbook. I can’t imagine that store paneer is as cheap or as good, but to be honest, I’ve never tried buying it.

  3. Kate Says:

    I made paneer for the first time this year, to go with spinach….Palak Paneer, I believe? It turned out wonderful, and I had to restrain myself from just munching down the curds. I used yogurt….it isn’t about cost.

    I really like your site, and will check back often. Your writing is entertaining and well done.

  4. Annie Says:

    Kate: Paneer is terrific, I’ll look into trying the yogurt sometime if I have a lot left over. Thank for the compliments.

  5. Mallika Says:

    Hats off to you for this comprehensive guide to paneer. You’ve taught me a thing or two and I’m Indian.

    I’ve linked you on my blog http://www.quickindiancooking.com.

  6. Diwali Special at Quick Indian Cooking Says:

    [...] The food was the real saving grace of the evening for my petrified self. The evening Diwali meal at our place was strictly vegetarian – a veritable feast of golden fried pooris, masala aloo and paneer with a wide selection of sweets to finish. [...]

  7. Annie Says:

    Mallika: Neat! I’m glad you found the post interesting. The food on your blog looks delicious.

  8. Cramasaur Says:

    Very Well Written , Very Well Read,Very Well Made, and hope fully Very Well Eaten, I am an Indian currently in Canada and was looking for a suitable receipe for an Indian Entree and I was bumped to your blog. I am simply bowled over reading how comprehensively and immaculately with the finer details you have written about the paneer receipe. Kudos!

  9. Annie Says:

    Cramasaur: Thanks so much! I’m always relieved when Indians approve. I never want to insult another cuisine by failing to do it justice.

  10. Diana Says:

    If you let the whey sit overnight and then return it to a boil the following day, you can make ricotta cheese. Boil they whey and tiny ricotta curds will float to the top. Once it seems like there is no more curd hiding out, strain the same way for paneer…Then drain in the refrigerator in a cheesecloth hobo-sack over a bowl.

    Here are clearer ricotta instructions: http://biology.clc.uc.edu/fankhauser/Cheese/Ricotta/RICOTTA_00.HTM

  11. Annie Says:

    Diana: That’s so cool, thanks! And I just made paneer too. I can’t wait to make more.

  12. Dev Says:

    I have to say exactly what Mallika already said above. I need to make paneer on a regular basis (eat paneer daily for medical reasons) using whey, to make it softer. I want to know for how long can one store paneer and whey in refrigerator? Such that they are relatively good for consumption. The shorter of paneer and whey storage time would determine the frequency for preparation. Thanks in advance.

  13. Dev Says:

    Also, how the paneer should be stored in refrigerator for best results? For ex. wrapped up in wet cloth or immerse it in a bowl of water…..I would appreciate if you could email me this information as I need this info asap. Thanks

  14. Annie Says:

    Dev: I have never stored whey and don’t know how long it will last, but since it’s a liquid, I’m sure you could bring the whey to a boil every four days or so to make sure it stays good. As for paneer, I’ve kept it up to five days in the refrigerator, which I keep quite cold. You can freeze it as well. I prefer to slice it up and store it as is in a tightly sealed container rather than in liquid because I prefer it firm. I don’t know is water or a wet cloth would affect the texture.

  15. Dev Says:

    Thanks Annie!

  16. mystic Says:

    I love how you explain about different kind of acids that we can use to make paneer. I am Indian and rarely make paneer but would like to do so more often. I have been looking for the perfect acid for this purpose and you have done all the research for me. Thanks!
    Traditionally in India, in homes where paneer is made on regular basis, people store away some of the liquid after they have collected the paneer solids and use it for making the paneer the next day;that way it has no after taste. But I can’t do that if I make paneer once a year :).
    Have you tried flavoring paneer someway, e.g. with herbs etc ?

  17. Flavored Paneer – The trio of Paneer with the cumin flavored in front, the chili flavored one behind it and the plain lastyes, it rocks! | foodydoody Says:

    [...] not require aging. I did a quick search on the Internet and didn’t find much but I did find Bonappegeek where the author mentioned adding salt to the Paneer, something that I had not considered this far [...]