Paneer is a variety of fresh acid cheese that is not aged and doesn't melt on cooking. You can compare it to ricotta cheese except with Paneer, the whey is completely strained out and the cheese is set, so it can be cut into slices.
If you enjoy Indian food, then you must have tasted Paneer in some form of curry, like matar paneer or paneer butter masala or palak panner. It's one of the most common vegetarian ingredient used on a daily basis.
Bengalies on the other hand enjoy chena a lot, and it is pronounced as chana in Bengali, not to be confused with chana like chickpeas.
In Bengali cuisine, Chena/Chana is used in various form of savory dishes like Chena Kaju Palak or sweets like Chanar Payesh, the famous bengali sweet Rosogolla. Fresh chena also makes delicious stuffed paratha called paneer paratha.
While Paneer can be easily found in Indian stores, frozen aisle, finding fresh Chena is almost impossible. Making it at home is very easy, but it can a little tricky. So follow the steps I mentioned here, and you will make soft chena or paneer every time.
Making Homemade Paneer is very easy. All you need is whole full fat milk and something acidic like lemon juice or vinegar to curdle the milk.
Here are the quick steps :
- Start by boiling the milk in a heavy bottom pan. Keep stirring as it boils, so it doesn't get burnt at the bottom of the pan.
2. Once boiled, add the lemon juice and let it curdle.
3. Strain the curdled milk using a clean muslin cloth and squeeze all the whey out. Tie the edges and place it on a colander. Place something heavy on top, like your cast iron skillet or motor pestle.
4. Leave it in the fridge for overnight or least 4 to 5 hours.
5. The curdled milk should set, and you will be able to slice into bite size pieces.
A very important note to keep in mind when you are making homemade paneer is to use FULL FAT MILK. If you use low fat milk, the paneer will not set enough for you to slice. It will crumble.
And if you manage to slice into bite size, it might crumble and break apart when you cook with it.
Save or Discard the Whey
The whey you get from straining the curdled milk is high in protein. You can use it in several ways, e.g.: smoothie, soup, stew, dips, bread.
You can choose to save or discard.
The milk didn't curdle after adding the acid
You have to bring the milk to full boil before you add the acid.
PRO-TIP: Add few ice cubes as soon as the milk comes to boil and then pour the acid. Adding ice cubes will bring down the temperature of the milk instantly, and this results in a soft texture of the paneer.
Homemade Paneer not setting or broke apart in curry
If you prepare paneer using low fat milk, it will not set properly. Or it will break apart when added in curries.
How to Store Homemade Paneer ?
You can store the entire block of paneer wrapped in clear film or vacuum seal or airtight container, kept in the refrigerator.
The sliced paneer cubes can be store the same way.
It will stay fresh for a week in the refrigerator. If you want to keep longer, store in the freezer.
SOME KEY TIPS:
- Use only Full Fat Whole Milk
- Make sure to stir the milk constantly as it comes to boil
- Do not add the acid before the mil comes to full boil
- Drop ice cubes to bring down the temperature of the milk once it's come to full boil. This helps to create a soft texture.
- Mix the acid (lemon juice or vinegar) with equal part water before adding to the boiled milk. This will separate the milk slowly creating a soft texture of the homemade paneer.
- Wash the strained curdle milk to remove any excess sour taste from the vinegar or lemon juice.
I don't always depend on homemade paneer, since Paneer gets cooked at least once a week. So yes, I do depend on good quality store bought paneer. But occasionally I like to find some time and make the paneer at home because truly it makes the dish extra special.
- 1 gallon full fat whole milk
- 3 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons water
- 4 to 5 ice cubes
- In a glass, mix the vinegar with water and keep it aside. Also keep the ice cubes ready and close to the stove top.
- In a heavy bottom pan, pour the full fat milk and let it come to boil. Keep stirring to avoid the milk from getting burnt at the bottom of the pan.
- Once it comes to a boil, switch off the heat and pour the ice cubes. This will drop the temperature instantly and that helps to give a smooth texture to the paneer.
- Pour the vinegar and water, keep stirring, and you will notice the milk curdled and whey got separated.
- Place a muslin cloth on a colander and strain the curdled milk. You can choose to save the whey and use in soup or stew, or discard.
- Run cold water on the paneer to wash off any excess sour taste from the vinegar.
- Bring the edges of the cloth and squeeze off all the excess water. Tie the edges and place sometime heavy on top like a motor pestle or a heavy plate and leave aside for 4 to 5 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. This will drain off all the excess water and set the paneer.
- Once it's set, untie and slice the block into bite size pieces.