Cheesemaking often seems almost like sorcery. Every cheese starts with milk, and by carefully controlling its spoilage a cheesemaker can create something transcendent. Cheese lies in the realm of coffee, chocolate, and fine wine–the pleasure they offer test our abilities of description. Vocabularies are invented to note their characteristics. They demand poetry, rather than prose.
Even the most avid home cook or the most seasoned professional chef might be a bit intimidated by cheese, and decide to leave its creation to an artisan.
But there is always somewhere simple to start. A fresh cheese need not overwhelm. For most you simply curdle a cheese, add a bit of salt perhaps, and shape, maybe stretch the cheese.
Paneer is basically a pressed cottage cheese. It is called a direct-acidification cheese in technical terms. You can make your own paneer in little more than an hour with the use of equipment you most likely already have in your kitchen. The following recipe is adapted from Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin and Ed Anderson.
- large pots, at least 5 quarts
- instant read thermometer
- rubber spatula
- butter muslin or cheesecloth
- large bowl
- kitchen twine
- cooling tray set over a dish
- large cast iron pan
- 2 1/2 quarts milk
- 5 cups cultured buttermilk
- kosher salt
1) Clean your equipment. Clean and disinfect all the equipment that may come in contact with the cheese.
2) Heat the milk. Place the milk in the pot over medium-low heat and allow it to come to 175 degrees. It should take a little over a half hour.
3) Curdle the milk. Once 175 degrees is reached add the buttermilk to the pot. Gently whisk to combine. Curds should form immediately. Allow the temperature to rise to 195 degrees, stirring occasionally. Gently press the curds together with a spatula, so that they form a single mass. Once 195 degrees is reached, take the pot off the heat and cover. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes.
4) Separate the curds from the whey. Line a colander with damp butter muslin or several layers of cheesecloth. Pour the contents of the pot into the colander. Reserving the whey in a large bowl.
5) Drain the curds. Fold the corners of the cloth to the center to form a bundle. Tie closed with kitchen twine, and hang the bundle from the faucet allowing the curds to drain for five minutes.
6) Salt the curds. After five minutes open the bundle. Sprinkle the curds with a tsp of kosher salt and mix together with clean hands. Bundle and hang the curds to drain for another 10 minutes.
7) Press the curds. With your hands press the curds into a square about 3/4 of an inch thick. Fold the cloth snugly over the top to form a package. Place it on top of the cooling rack set over a dish, and place the cast iron skillet on top to press. Press the cheese for at least 1/2 hour.
One of the most common ways to serve paneer is with saag, an Indian dish. Saag is a simple puree of greens, with garlic, onion and spices. It is simple, yet satisfying. It is especially good if you take the time to make your own spice mix rather than use a store-bought curry.
- mortar and pestle or spice grinder
- large pot
- microplane grater
- immersion blender or food processor
- 2 tbs cumin seed
- 1 tbs coriander
- 2 tsp mustard seed
- 3 cardamom pods
- 3 whole cloves
- 1/2 to 1 lb paneer, store-bought or homemade, cut into cubes
- ghee, or clarified butter
- 1 medium onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 inch segment fresh ginger, peeled
- 1 1/2 lbs baby spinach
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt
- juice of 1/2 lemon
1) Roast and Grind spices. Place the cumin seed, coriander, mustard seed, cardamom and clove in a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat. Roast for several moments until they release their fragrance and brown slightly. With a mortar and pestle or spice grinder grind the spices as finely as possible. Set aside 2 tbs, and reserve the rest in a well-sealed jar for a separate use. Wipe the skillet clean.
2) Brown the paneer. Melt 2 tbs ghee in the cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the paneer and brown well. Transfer the paneer to a paper towel.
3) Cook the aromatics. Transfer the melted ghee from the skillet to a large pot. Add more ghee if necessary to generously coat the cooking surface. Add the onion and garlic to the pot and place over medium heat and salt well. When the onions become translucent grate the segment of ginger into the pot with the microplane. Add 2 tbs of the spice blend,
4) Steam the spinach. Add the spinach and buttermilk to the pot and cover for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is cooked through.
5) Finish seasoning and puree the spinach. Add the turmeric, yogurt and lemon juice and stir to combine. Roughly puree the spinach with an immersion blender, or transfer to a food processor, and pulse several times. Salt to taste. Transfer to serving dishes and top with reserved paneer. Serve with basmati rice, and chapati or naanFollow @icinthedark