Wednesday, April 13, 2011
It is well worth making paneer at home at least once. It takes quite a bit of kneading to get the right consistency- soft and smooth yet firm and not crumbly. I used to keep store bought frozen paneer on hand when I had easy access to Indian grocery stores on Devon Ave in Chicago. The store bought stuff is good in a pinch, but to be honest, I find it rather rubbery and almost squeaky in texture so I often just eat the gravy around it!
Over the years I've tried several different approaches for making paneer. I've tried recipes that claim to produce a firm brick of paneer simply by draining the curds in a cheese cloth and placing heavy objects on top for 3-4 hours. I've tried other recipes that recommend refrigerating the paneer once it is drained to firm it up (with and without heavy objects on top). I've even tried microwaving the paneer in short intervals to remove the moisture. And each time, I've ended up with paneer that crumbles when you cut, cook, or eat it.
The approach that has worked best for me is more labor intensive than any of the above short-cuts, but the result is absolutely perfect cubes of paneer. You drain the curds for a few hours, knead the paneer, and then you knead it some more, and then you knead it a little more after that. After all of that kneading you get beautiful, smooth paneer that stays firm when you cook it. But wait, I have a shortcut that actually works-- you can use a food processor to do a lot of the kneading for you!
I should add that I generally don't fry my paneer for my favorite dish, paneer makhani, so it is really important that it doesn't crumble when added to a simmering gravy. For other dishes, like mutter paneer, I fry the paneer until it is golden brown but still soft inside.
1 gallon whole milk
1/4 cup vinegar (or lemon juice)
In a large saucepan, bring milk almost to a boil, stirring often to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pot. Just before it boils, add the vinegar. Curds will form immediately. Gently and briefly stir to disperse the vinegar, avoid stirring vigorously. Turn off heat. Let rest for ten minutes.
Line a colander with a cheese cloth and pour the contents of the pot into the colander. Reserve some of the liquid (the whey) for later. Fold the cheese cloth over the top of the curds so that they are covered. Set something heavy, such as a pot filled with water, over the curds to press out the moisture. Let rest for 4 hours, or until the water is drained.
Transfer the curds to a food processor and process until smooth. Alternatively you can knead the curds on a clean worksurface until smooth (it takes significant effort, but is worth it). The consistency should be smooth like firm ricotta and the paneer should be able to form a ball. If the curds are too dry, add a tsp of the reserved liquid at a time and process again.
Remove the paneer from the processor and form into a ball. On a clean worksurface, knead until smooth. It should remain smooth when you press down and not crumble. Form into a flat brick about 1 inch thick and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until needed. It will become firmer while in the refrigerator. If not using within 1-2 days, freeze the paneer.