How NOT to Make Paneer

>> Monday, December 6, 2010

Not my most successful afternoon in the kitchen. That's for sure. I had been wanting to make paneer since Emily posted her oh-so creative Naan Pizza with Paneer Cheese a couple months ago. And since our primary mission this weekend was to decorate, relax, and enjoy time off . . . I figured it'd be the perfect time to try it out.

You need whole milk for this recipe. And you need lemon or vinegar to make those strong curds that eventually make up your cheese. (Of course, my try was already doomed at this point by my substitution of lime juice for lemon. More on that later.)

Would you believe me if I told you that the very first time I bought cow's milk for myself was this weekend? It's so very true! Despite our diet -- which is seemingly heavy in the cheese area -- we don't drink milk. Instead, we stock our fridge with almond milk.

Alright. You also need cheesecloth, a colander, and a medium bowl. And if you're interested, the entire process is outlined in full here.

Basically, you just pour 4 cups of milk into a saucepan. Bring it to a rolling boil. Then add a cup of lemon juice (as Emily writes, and I wholeheartedly agree, freshly squeezed is best).

Stir, stir, and stir some more. For 2 to 3 minutes. Until you see curds forming. This is where I knew things weren't exactly going to work out. Mine didn't really have curds. It thickened. But not as much as I would have expected.

You take everything off the stove after you've gotten your curd on. Then, you pour the mix into a colander lined with a doubled-over piece of cheesecloth (you should be able to find it in the supplies section of your grocery store). Make sure the bowl you're pouring into is tall enough so that your to-be cheese isn't sitting in a warm puddle. It needs to DRAIN.

Then, you wait. For 30 minutes or so. While everything separates. When you return for the next step, it should look something like this:

But, if you want a firmer cheese (and I wanted cubes, I tell you, beautiful and firm CUBES!) . . . you need to get creative. First, you'll squeeze a bit more moisture out of your cheese ball. Fold over the cheese cloth. And set it back on the colander (I also emptied the water that had already drained).

Stick a small plate atop your cheese. Then weigh it down with something heavy. Or two things heavy. It's a balancing act, so just be careful. I actually scared myself because right after I left my leaning tower of cheese, it came crashing down in a loud BANG.

Leave everything like this for an hour or two. Again, mine didn't really turn out as expected. I got a thick, spreadable ricotta texture. It tasted like lime cheese. (I think lemons wouldn't be quite as pervasive.)

So, instead of making mutter paneer like I had hoped (cubed paneer with peas in a thick sauce), I mixed it with some egg replacer, paprika, salt, and curry and baked it. We then spread it on some naan with our dinner.

Tasty -- yes. But not at all what I had set out to make. That's OK, though. We still have half of the milk left . . . and some lemon juice. I think I'll be trying this recipe again very, very soon. And if every kitchen creation was a resounding success, it wouldn't be as much fun. See, I learned something! I can't be so cocky with my substitutions. I mean, I have never attempted to make cheese before.

The first time is the best time to follow instructions.

What's your most recent kitchen flop . . . and what did you learn from it? I know you have one! Don't be shy. Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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