If you’ve ever had cause to wonder exactly what Little Miss Muffet was eating on her tuffet on that fateful day that the spider came along and sat down beside her, then you’re about to find out. For it turns out that curds and whey are…well, basically paneer! Frankly, I’m surprised. Really – I had no idea!
Paneer is common in Indian cooking, and it’s one of my favourite ingredients. If it’s on a menu, then that’s usually the dish that I go for. A good paneer and spinach curry is a thing of joy.
I’ve got friends who have in the past been known to get rather snobbish when they try to make a curry. What? You’re not making your own paneer? Well, it’s just not the same. I always thought they were probably right, but let’s be honest – there are a lot of things we could all be making at home but don’t. Paneer always seemed like a job too far. I’ve always just bought the blocks as it makes things so, so much easier. Who actally has the time to make the stuff themselves? Well, it turns out that it’s actually a heck of a lot easier than you might think.
First, get several pints of whole milk. Heat it, then add some lemon juice diluted with hot water. The milk splits, and that’s bascially it! Then just strain it, rinse the curds, and then weigh down the paneer to drive out the excess water. You are left with a large, flat block of paneer that can be cut into pieces and then fried until golden, and then added to whatever dish you’re in the mood for making.
The flavour of the fresh paneer was different to the stuff you buy. It tastes fresher and lighter. The texture is different too – it does not cut as cleanly into squares, but it keeps a slightly crumbly, almost fluffy texture. When you come to fry the paneer, I noticed this time that it has a distinct aroma of buttery caramel as it cooks, which the commercial stuff does not.
So that’s my attempt at paneer, and I was completely thrilled when it was fried and produced this plate of golden deliciousness. It ended up in a spicy tomato and ginger sauce, enriched with a little natural yoghurt. A nice way to finish a Sunday!
To make paneer:
• juice 1 lemon
• cup of hot water
1. Gently heat the milk in a saucepan until it just comes to the boil. Watch it doesn’t boil over – otherwise your hob will be a pain to clean!
2. In the meantime, mix the lemon juice with the hot water. Once the milk is just boiling, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice mixture. Stir until the milk curdles – this is the curds and whey separating. Leave to cool for around 15 minutes, gently stirring from time to time.
3. Line a metal sieve with muslin or cheesecloth. Pour the milk mixture into the cloth, and allow to drain. Gently run cold water through the cheese to remove any remaining lemon juice.
4. Gather the ends of the cloth then squeeze out as much water as you can.
5. Place the cheese (still wrapped in the cloth) on a tray and put something very, very heavy on top (I used a metal pan filled with weights). This should flatten the cheese into a firm block. Leave to sit for an hour or two, and the excess water will be squeezed out.
Worth making? Making paneer is actually really easy, and the result is a bit nicer than the stuff you buy. If you’ve got the time (or need to occupy some children for a while) then it’s worth trying. However, I suspect I’ll keep buying it as it’s easier to have it ready for use in the fridge when I want it. Sorry guys!