Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Making Paneer

In January, I decided to make a foray into the wide world of cheese-making. I had just finished the first chapter of Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, which happens to cover dairy, and I was intrigued enough by the processes described that I wanted to try it for myself.

I started out pretty much as basic as you get--paneer. I figured the non-aged, unflavored farmers' cheese would be a good place to start. Plus, as a big Indian food fan, I LOVE paneer, and I had a curry recipe that I bet it would go great in.

I followed the recipe for whole milk paneer from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. It's really not much of a recipe, it's so simple: bring milk to a boil, stir in a curdling agent, then separate the curds and whey and press to drain out as much liquid as possible.

This really was an easy, if slightly time-consuming process. I brought a gallon of whole to a boil, which took about an hour, stirring the whole time. Once it reached a boil, I poured in 1/4 cup white vinegar. The directions said that curds would appear within 15 seconds or so, and it really did happen much more instantaneously than I expected.

I poured the contents of the pot into a colander lined with cheesecloth (this is it's true purpose!) and wrapped it tightly before setting a water-filled tea kettle on top. I let this sit for the next five hours, pushing down on the kettle occasionally to make sure as much liquid as possible was squeezed out.

And, voilá!

My paneer, after draining/pressing for 5 hours and then chilling in a mold (read: tupperware) in the fridge

The cheese had a pleasant, if mild, taste, which was to be expected since I hadn't added even so much as salt for seasoning; it was crumbly in a way similar to feta but a little rubberier.

The crumbliness had me worried; after all, I was supposed to cube the cheese. In the end, the edges crumbled but I was able to cut most of it into nice neat cubes which I then fried in a bit of vegetable oil. I am a reluctant pan-fryer; I don't like hot oil splashing all over my hands and arms. But I thought that crisping up some of the edges would help the paneer stay intact after being stirred into the curry. Also, browning = flavor.

Frying the paneer
Pan-fried paneer, though only on two sides because I am impatient

I then proceeded to whip up Mark Bittman's recipe for curry with spinach (originally designed to be used with leftover thanksgiving turkey) and mixed in the paneer:

Curry with spinach and homemade paneer
Mmm...tomato-coconut milk curry, spinach, and homemade paneer--what's not to love?

The process of making paneer was altogether really easy and one that I would repeat. I look forward to trying more cheeses. I plan to try the Homesick Texan's queso blanco with herbs and chiles next, and hopefully move into rennet-based and aged cheeses.

Did I mention I'm a cheese fiend?

1 comment:

Mia said...

That looks awesome and not all that intimidating! I'm excited to see how the queso blanco turns out. I've never had anything but success with her recipes. Keep the food posts coming!