How to Make Firm Paneer Cheese (Simple Indian Cheese)

 

What’s so wonderful about paneer cheese (besides how it’s healthy, fluffy, satisfying, and doesn’t melt) is how easy it is to make at home with common kitchen ingredients and equipment. For this reason, it’s an ideal choice to enter the foray of homemade cheese making. What’s more, it is a key component in numerous classic and exceptionally delicious Indian dishes such as Samosa, Dum Paneer, Kadai Paneer, and probably the most famous in the US – Palak Paneer.

You can pan cook the paneer to brown it in a pan too before adding it to these dishes. It won’t melt and has a nice firm texture (especially with the tips I’ll offer you). You can also eat without mixing it in curries and other dishes, such as part of an array of brunch foods.

With no further ado, here’s my recipe & method!

Yield: ~225g paneer cheese. This is enough cheese to make Palak Paneer for 2 people. Double this recipe to feed 4 (and use a larger saucepan and mixing bowl).

Shelf life: Suggested to use within 3-4 days.

Equipment:

  • Measuring cups & spoons
  • Medium saucepan
  • Wooden spoon or stirrer
  • Colander
  • Medium mixing bowl and bowl of cold water
  • Cheesecloth (grade 50 & grade 90 suggested)
  • Plates to press cheese

Ingredients:

  • 4.25 cups whole milk (or half & half)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice mixed with 2 TBSP water (can sub white vinegar for lemon juice, but less of the mixture may be needed so as not to overcurdle the cheese)
  • Optional: 1 TBSP corn starch (firms up the cheese)

Directions:

1.) Pour the milk into the saucepan and place over medium-high heat, stirring in the salt as the milk heats up. Continue cooking until the milk achieves a low boil. Occasionally work the spoon across the bottom of the pot to avoid milk burning on the bottom. Turn down the heat slightly as needed to avoid a sudden spillover of the milk. Skim off any skin that may have formed on the surface of the milk and then slowly pour in the lemon/water mixture, stirring gently side to side.

2.) After continuously stirring gently side to side for a minute or so, the milk should start to curdle (separate between solids and liquid). As soon as it starts to do so, turn off the heat and continue to gently agitate the milk for another 30-60 seconds. Remove the saucepan from the burner. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes.

3.) Meanwhile, place the colander atop the mixing bowl so that all liquid whey will drain into the bowl. Place a generous sized sheet of the Grade-50 cheesecloth over the colander. If it is rather loose-woven cheesecloth, you may opt to use two layers or fold it over. Slowly and gently pour the curdled milk over the cheesecloth and allow to strain and cool for about ten minutes.

4.) Pull up the sides or four corners of the cheesecloth so that the strained paneer cheese rests at the bottom. Squeeze and twist the cheesecloth so that the cheese forms a ball at the bottom of the cheesecloth.

5.) Firmly holding the neck of the cheesecloth so that no paneer can escape through the top, fully immerse the paneer in the bowl of cold water and bob up down several times, in essence rinsing the paneer cheese inside the cheesecloth. This will help eliminate the flavor of the lemon juice or other acid.

6.) Continue to twist the cheesecloth and apply light pressure to the cheese to squeeze out all the remaining liquid. You don’t want to squeeze the cheese itself as it can become too soft, but twisting the neck of the cheesecloth firmly is important to release as much liquid as possible. This may take a few minutes. You may also opt to hang the cheesecloth for 20-30 minutes.

7.) Optional step: place the paneer cheese in a dry mixing bowl and gently spread it out with the wooden spoon. Coat the cheese with the cornstarch, and then gently work the cornstarch evenly into the cheese by hand or with a small spoon. Then continue on to the next step.

8.) Cut out a piece of the Grade-90 cheesecloth (or muslin) larger enough to fold over the paneer. Place the paneer in the center of the cloth, fold over the cheesecloth, and then fold over the other sides. The cloth should be folded tightly around the sides of the paneer. The paneer will take on a square or rectangular shape.

9.) Place the paneer between two plates to help express any remaining moisture out of the cheese. Find a ~5 lb. weight (such as a small saucepan filled with uncooked rice) that will fit over the plate. It will help to set the paneer and remove any remaining moisture. Wait at least 30 minutes, and for a firmer cheese, wait 4 hours (can be done in refrigerator). Then remove the weight. Cut the paneer cheese into 3/4″ cubes for immediate use or place in glassware in the refrigerator for later use.

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