Paneer is a fresh cheese commonly used in South East Asian cooking particularly in Indian, Nepalese, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi cuisine. My first encounter with Paneer was at a restaurant on the famous Brick Lane in London where, as you do when you first arrive in the UK, we went to sample some proper Indian food.
Not being an expert on Indian specialities we decided to be adventurous and let the waiter make a few recommendations. One of the dishes that came out was Saag Paneer, which at first glance looked like a thick green soup with cubes of tofu. But upon tasting the first mouthful I realised it was a beautiful spicy spinach curry with cubes of an unfamiliar cheese – something similar to feta or haloumi in texture but with a much milder flavour. Needless to say since then Sag Paneer is one of my favourite Indian dishes.
Paneer is made in a very similar way to ricotta, where an acid like vinegar or lemon juice is added to hot milk to separate the curds from the whey. It differs in that it is pressed to create a firm cheese that doesn’t melt and is commonly used in dishes with strong spicy flavours like curries. It also very easy to make your own so next time ditch the Indian takeaway and make a curry with your own homemade paneer instead!
Preparation Time: 1 hour 15 minutes | Makes: 500gm
4 litres of organic whole milk
(good quality organic milk will always make your cheese taste better!)
125ml pure cream
(you can leave this out but it will make your ricotta oh so creamy)
250ml lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
5 litre stock pot
Cheese cloth or Chux cloth
2 dinner plates
(or similar flat surfaces)
1 tin of tomatoes
(or a similar object to weigh down your cheese)
Add the milk to the pot and over a medium setting and slowly warm your milk to 85°C (185°F). This should take about 15 minutes. Whisk the milk from time to time to ensure it doesn’t burn.
STEP 2: Add the lemon juice
Once your milk is at temperature give it a good stir with a whisk. Then removing the whisk add the lemon juice allowing the moving milk to mix with the acid.
Once the lemon juice is added stir the milk very gently to make sure it is mixed through well. You want to clearly see the translucent whey and soft curds separated. Let it stand for 1-2 minutes.
STEP 4: Separate the curds and the whey
Line your strainer with cheese or chux cloth set above a container and gently spoon out your curds. Once you have scooped out the biggest curds pour the rest of the contents into the strainer to drain.
Leave the curds to stand for about 15 minutes until most of the whey has been drained. Gently mix through cream (if you are using it) and the salt.
STEP 6: Mould the cheese
Once the curds have drained remove from the strainer, and keeping them in the cheese cloth, shape into a flat disc (or whatever shape you prefer).
Place your cheese between two plates (or any other flat surfaces) and weigh it down with a heavy object like a tin of tomatoes. Press your cheese for 30 minutes to an hour.
STEP 8: Ready to eat!
Once your cheese is pressed remove from the cheese cloth and it is ready to eat. Add to traditional curries like Paneer Korma or Saag Paneer. If you don’t eat all of it straight away store in an airtight container in the frigde for up to a week.
Recipes using paneer: