How to Make Paneer
Robert Peyton is out this week, so please enjoy this post, originally published April 7, 2011, on his personal blog Appetites.
I am an odd man. This will come as no surprise if you’ve read this website over the last nine years or so, but the specific bit of oddness that prompted this post was a compulsion I had on Saturday to make Paneer. Paneer is a fresh cheese used in Indian cooking. It is simple to make; there are only two ingredients. It does take some time If you want a firm cheese, but it doesn’t require your attention for more than a few minutes.
I ended up making saag paneer last night, and I was pleased with the result. I also made naan, but my 550 degree oven and pizza stone were a poor substitute for a real tandoor. More about the saag and the naan in a bit; first, here’s how to make Paneer:
1/2 gallon whole milk
4 tbs. lemon juice
Heat the milk slowly until it just comes to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming on the surface. When the milk comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. The milk will separate into curds and whey almost immediately.
Line a colander with enough cheesecloth that it drapes over the sides; you’ll want to wrap the cheese in the cloth. Set the colander over a large bowl and strain the curds and whey. Let the cheese drain for an hour or so, then remove the cheese – still in the cheesecloth – and place it between two plates with a heavy weight on top. After around three or four hours the cheese should have firmed up to the point where you can cut it into batons or cubes.
In the past, I’ve discarded the whey, but yesterday I did some searching and found a number of websites which suggested using it in place of milk for baking. I substituted whey for half of the milk called for in the recipe I used. The bread turned out pretty well, though not as pliable as I’d have liked.
I looked through a few cookbooks and online for a recipe for saag, but eventually I just improvised. I started by sauteeing a small diced onion in butter. When it was softened, I added about a teaspoon of flour. I let that cook for a bit, then added around two tablespoons of freshly grated ginger, the same amount of minced jalapeno, and a minced garlic clove. After five minutes or so I added some ground toasted cumin, a little ground coriander, a little ground cardamom, and some garam masala. I seasoned with salt, and then added a large (11 oz.) container of baby spinach and a half-bunch of chopped cilantro. I added around a quarter cup of water, and let it cook on low for around 15 minutes. While that was cooking, I browned the cubed paneer in butter. I put the spinach mixture into my food processor and got it to the consistency of a thick sauce, then returned it to the (now cleaned) pot with some heavy cream to simmer. I added the paneer about five minutes before serving, to warm through. I thought it turned out very well, though I may experiment the next time I make the dish by adding other greens to the spinach.
If you’ve got any other uses for whey, please let me know. Also, if you have made naan in a big green egg, I’d love to hear your experience.