Sunday, November 04, 2007

Paneer : A Photoessay

There is no use in fighting it. Some (crappy) people may deny it, but the truth is that everyone on this earth is the same on the inside (except maybe Clive Owen. He is better). Let's use cheese as an example. Every culture and cuisine has their version of a fresh cheese. There are variations within the genre, just as with people, but the founding principle is the same. Russian people have have fresh farmer’s cheese (tvorog) – cow’s milk that is cultured overnight, then drained. Italians have mozzarella (pulled or stretched curd cheese) and ricotta, re-cooked from whey. Mexican people have queso fresco, Indians have paneer. Both of these are acid set cheeses, meaning that the milk is curdled by the addition of an acid. The resulting curds are separated and drained, and sometimes pressed (as in the case of queso fresco and paneer) to get rid of extra whey.

So you see? They are all the same at heart, and they all taste reeeaally good.

I got a hands-on demonstration of this unifying theory of mine when my old old old (15 years and counting) friend, Archna, came up to Boston for another visit. Seeing as how we were/are both stressed and tired, nothing seemed more appealing than sitting on a couch for hours on end and cooking something that takes ages of waiting but minutes of work. Enter paneer, the main component of one of my most favorite Indian dishes, muttar paneer (peas and paneer).

After multiple phone consultations with Archna’s Mom, and many assurances from her that we will never be able to make it properly we, remarkably, did it. I can’t say that we made it properly, but we made it. And it was delicious.

The basics of paneer making are as follows:

Heat milk (2% or whole milk) slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it starts to boil. Don’t let it boil vigorously or you will have hours of stove scrubbing to look forward to - it always boils over. Always.

Turn off the heat and curdle the milk in one of two ways, either with the addition of vinegar or buttermilk. Buttermilk will make a richer, creamier paneer but vinegar may yield more curds. Add the buttermilk or vinegar until the milk curdles. For half a gallon, we used two cups of buttermilk (approximate vinegar equivalent would be ¼ - ½ cup).

Let the milk rest undisturbed, partially covered for two hours.

Then:

Drain the curds into a cheese cloth set in a colander. Either suspend the bundle from a faucet to drip the whey into the sink or, say you are kinda clumsy and let the cheesecloth slip open, leave the curds to drain the colander for one hour.



Remove the curds onto a high tech, sophisticated paneer pressing machine. This marvel of technology (my own invention) consists of a cooling rack atop a large pot or bowl...





... topped with a plate and a bottle of wine for a press. Preferably Chablis, preferably chilled, although this portion of the instructions may be modified to suit your individual taste.

Allow the paneer to drain for another hour.

Remove the paneer from the cheesecloth and transfer it onto a plate. Slice into biggish cubes.
At this point, the paneer may be refrigerated or frozen, or it can be fried straight away.

Brown in the paneer on both sides in vegetable or canola oil, drain on a paper towel, and use in your preferred recipe. My recipe of choice, muttar paneer, is forthcoming.

10 comments:

JC said...

I love muttar paneer! I've only had canned/frozen/packaged versions though (don't judge me too harshly!). There aren't any east Asian cheeses though, right?

Green Armadillo said...

I'm appalled at these photos. What if the cheese had settled unevenly, causing the plate to tip and dropping the bottle of wine? Reckless endangerment! ;)

Final product looks yummy though. So I guess it was all for a good cause.

leena! said...

If I were stranded on a deserted island, instead of fresh water, clothing or shelter, I would want, nay, NEED fried cheese.

Preferably one that doesn't drip, since I didn't pick the clothing.

Can't wait to see the recipe it goes in!

Hillary said...

You are so badass making your own paneer. I love it! I particularly like the specific directions about which bottle of wine to use for the press. Paneer looks great (especially after it's fried!)

JC said...

Palak paneer is good too!

Nitasha said...

Ooh yum!!
That's a great tutorial, Anna - Kanchan and I should try it - the relaxing on couch with wine part sounds especially rewarding!

Kanchan said...

Anna! That paneer looks fantastic. And the Chablis even more so :) My aunt actually curdles the milk with lemon juice and it seems to work. Thanks for teaching us Indians about our own variety of "fresh cheese".

Anna said...

JC - I loooove palak paneer. It is a close second to muttar paneer for me. I don't know much about cheese beyond what I wrote about (and wikipedia'd), so I can't comment on Asian cheeses. I am curious now that you brought it up. Will look into it. And some frozen entrees are really quite good! The ones I got from the Indian grocery were super. No judgment here :)

Allen - The wine didn't have long to live in either case. It was dispatched as soon as it's services as a weight were no longer required.

Leena - You are so my secret twin. That is so funny. Fried cheese has got to be one of the greatest inventions of all time.

Hillary - I wouldn't be nearly so badass if I wasn't carefully supervised! I do well with thorough instruction.

Nitasha - The couch and wine part was a close second to the mutter paneer in fabulousness. We did literally nothing all day except sit on the couch and drink wine while watching the food network. It was brilliant.

Kanchan - I think it would be so much easier with lemon juice. I have heard people using lime juice as well but I feel like the paneer would tast... well, limey. I am having a desperately hard time learning how to cook Indian food. It doesn't help that most people teaching me say a pinch of this and add until it smells right. Not helpful in the slightest. It's not second nature to me, unfortunately!

Priya said...

hi anna - i'm a friend of nitasha and kanchan (we met once at N's). thanks for the post. i tried making paneer once (acid: lemon juice) with middling success. i can add another use for paneer, though. cut it up into smaller cubes and fry in more oil to the point of crunchiness...i used then as croutons. delicious.

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