Wednesday Food: Paneer, Salvation
In a semi-ranting yet cathartic (on my part) post a few weeks back I mentioned homemade cheese. It’s a fairly new undertaking for me but I thought I’d share a well-tested and easy recipe for Indian paneer cheese.
Paneer is made by bringing milk to a near-boil, introducing an acid (citrus juice/ vinegar which curdles the milk), and separating the milk curds from the whey. The curds are then gathered in cheesecloth, strained, and pressed. This produces a mild, firm, non-melting cheese. If eaten immediately the texture will be somewhat crumbly, but refrigerating overnight will make the cheese denser, like a low-moisture mozzarella. One advantage to the paneer cheesemaking method is that unlike others (homemade or bought) it doesn’t use rennet to coagulate the milk. Rennet is an animal-based product used for its enzymes and is not vegetarian.
Because of its non-melting properties, paneer retains its shape when fried or grilled, and lends itself well to being sliced, cubed, and marinated. You can often substitute it for firm tofu, or add it to any vegetarian dish that is lacking in protein. If you already have 2% or whole milk on hand, fresh cheese is just an hour away…
- Bring a half-gallon of whole milk to the boil, stirring frequently to prevent burning*. While the milk is warming, line a colander or sieve with double-layered cheesecloth. As the milk is just about to boil, remove it from heat and add 2 tbs lemon juice.
- Begin gently stirring, and continue until the milk starts to curdle. The grains of curd are well formed when you let them settle for a moment and the whey appears translucent.
- Run the contents through cheesecloth until the solids are separated out. Make as many whey puns as possible (Away with you, whey! Whey to go, curds! Bombs a-whey!) Though paneer is traditionally unsalted, if you want a little more flavor now would be the time to add any seasoning you’re willing to play around with.
- Gather the ends of the cheesecloth without letting any curd slip through, now squeeze with gusto and purpose. When you’ve rendered what liquid you can, plate the clothed cheeseball, place a flat surface on top (another plate, cutting board, pizza stone), and weigh (ha, whey!) it down with a heavy object.
After at least 30 minutes, but ideally 2 hours in the fridge, just remove the cheesecloth et voila! You can sauté it, slice and barbecue it, cube it for a salad, or make accompanying Indian dishes like chana masala and naan with cucumber dip. For visual aids and another version check out fxcuisine.
I enjoyed Avery Brewing’s Salvation with this meal. Belgian ales pair nicely with milder Indian dishes because spicy notes carry between the two and the soft, effervescent mouthfeel from the Belgian yeast seems to ready your palate for the springy paneer and tender chickpeas. You could go the nut brown route and pair a pint of Samuel Smith or combine the two styles with a Karl-Strauss Fullsuit.
*if you do burn the milk– you’ll know by smelling it or stirring up matter stuck to the bottom of the pan– your paneer is salvageable. Leave the burnt milk on the bottom of the pan undisturbed, try to fish out burnt pieces that have surfaced, and move the milk to a separate bowl after it’s boiled.
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