Paneer is a type of farmer’s cheese commonly eaten in India. It is firm, doesn’t melt with heat but is soft to bite into and can easily be crumbled and eaten with rotis. It pairs perfectly with Indian spices and is rich in milk protein. Typically however, it is also high in fats. That’s why I like to make my own paneer at home using reduced fat milk. Not only can you control the fat content, you can also control how dense you want it to be. If you’d like a softer version, all you have to do is reduce the time for pressing and draining the liquid, thus leaving in some extra moisture. I generally let it get nice and firm and cut it into uniform cubes which can be easily incorporated in savory dishes like curries, or can be crumbled and used in sweet preparations like malai burfi. The fresh homemade paneer has a better texture than the store bought frozen paneer - it is not quite as dense and chewy. I generally make a big batch using a gallon of milk, use part of the paneer and then freeze the rest to use later.
1 gallon milk (I use 2% reduced fat milk)
~¼-½ cup lemon juice or white vinegar
Heat the milk on low-medium heat stirring occasionally until it comes to a slow rolling boil. Add the lemon juice or vinegar and stir gently until the milk curdles and starts separating. You should see translucent liquid with chunks of paneer floating in it. If it still looks milky (opaque), add some more lemon juice or vinegar. Once the solids have separated completely, take the pot off the heat. The longer you heat the separated curds, the chewier the cheese will be. So let it boil for about a minute once the milk has started curdling. Shorter time would make the cheese more like ricotta which you can’t cut into cubes, while boiling for too long could result in fairly rubbery texture.
Drain the curdled milk on a colander lined with a cheesecloth, or use a very fine mesh sieve without cheesecloth. I have a wonderful sieve that is very common in India - it has a stainless steel ring, and you can interchange the sieves which come in different mesh sizes.
I use the finest one for making paneer. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. I generally place the sieve with the paneer on top of a pot, top the paneer with a plate (or another fine sieve) and put a lot of weight on it (It’s a great way to use those big cookbooks!) to help squeeze out more moisture.
After a few hours, you’ll have a nice firm block of paneer that you can slice as you wish and use in your favorite recipe. Store in an airtight container (I use Ziploc bags) in the refrigerator if using within a couple days.
If you make a big batch, you can freeze the leftover cubed paneer in airtight containers/bags and use it later. It’s a simple process and the result is soft and delicious, reduced fat paneer. Once you start making your own, you wouldn’t want to buy paneer anymore!
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