As they say, “necessity is the mother of invention.” I experienced it first-hand after moving to the US a few years back. Moving to a foreign country, I knew I will have to face a lot of challenges but even while preparing myself for the worst, I never thought that food will be on top of that list! I remember during those first few days I used to crave a hot samosa or a nice puffed roti. But slowly and with a lot of hard work, I found places where I could find food that came pretty close to home-cooked if not the same. But no matter what, some foods never taste the same and paneer is one of them. I could never find a store whose paneer came even remotely close to the real thing. So finally I gave up and started making it at home. It took me a fair amount of trial and error but I was able to get it right after a few attempts…
For those who are not familiar with paneer, it’s a type of cheese very common in Indian cuisine and is a good source of protein. But unlike most cheeses, it doesn’t need rennet for coagulation. Instead, a form of food acid is added to hot milk which helps in the curdling process. The common food acids used are lemon, vinegar or yogurt. The curdled milk is then collected in a cheese cloth, hanged for sometime for all the excess water to drip out and then also pressed under weight for a few hours to squeeze the remaining water out (this also gives a firm shape to paneer). This might sound like a lengthy process, but it is so worth it! Now, making paneer at home is not exactly rocket science but there are a few subtle things/tips that I’ve realized can make or break the deal. So let me list them real quick before sharing the actual recipe.
Tips for making paneer at home:
- Try stirring the milk with a plastic spatula while heating it. Stirring will prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom. But if some milk still sticks to the bottom and burns, a plastic spatula will not scratch the bottom and spoil the whole milk.
- Stop the cooking process as soon as the milk curdles. I add ice to the milk. This way your paneer won’t come out rubbery.
- Don’t hang your paneer for too long. Take it off as soon as water stops dripping.
- The fat % in the milk doesn’t really change the way it tastes, the type of acid used DOES. But the taste variance is so minute that I can’t really tell a difference.
- 1/2 a gallon of milk (equals 1.8 liters)
- 3 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
You will also need:
- 3-4 cups of ice
- Cheese cloth
Boil milk in a thick bottom pan. Stir it from time to time to keep it from sticking at the bottom. Once the milk is boiling, turn off the heat and add lemon juice while stirring it continuously. It will take just a few seconds for the milk to curdle and that’s exactly the time you have to stop the cooking process, so add ice to the pot.
Let it sit for about a minute and then strain it through strainer lined with cheese cloth. Once again wash the collected cheese with cold tap water (this helps wash that extra lemony flavor). Take all the sides of the cheese cloth and tie them together. Hang it somewhere to let the extra liquid drip off (place an empty bowl below it for the liquid to collect).
Once the liquid (or whey) stops dripping, take out the cheese and make a big ball of it. Wrap again with the cheese cloth. To press the cheese and give it a shape, place it over a chopping board and put a heavy pan or pot over it. (I usually use my wrought iron pan and to add more weight I put a few cans of beans on top of it). Let it sit for an hour or so. In an hour you’ll have your homemade paneer.