Adventures in Cheesemaking: Paneer Butter Masala!

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I was looking over my past posts and thinking it’s been a while since I’ve posted any cooking or recipe entries.  The total lack of any Indian cooking posts actually surprised me because I love cooking Indian food. (Sometimes I think I cook Indian meals enough days in a row to wear out Beth’s taste for them). So, Indian food post, your time has come.

One of my favorite dishes to cook is paneer butter masala. This dish consists of gently fried cubes of fresh, homemade cheese (paneer, seen above), served in a sinfully rich butter-tomato sauce (below).

IMG_0168The most difficult part by far is the cheese making, and even that is not so hard, or even really the time consuming. Additionally, I have found few culinary accomplishments as satisfying as making my own cheese. Homebrewing and cidermaking probably share a three-way tie with cheesemaking in my book.

Making the paneer requires only three ingredients, and all three might already be sitting in your kitchen: milk, salt, and an acid. I prefer lime juice, but you could also use white vinegar. Beth actually made apple paneer inadvertently a few weeks ago by heating milk with chunks of apple in it. I think whole milk makes the best tasting paneer, but skim milk curdles just as well. Even powdered milk will work. When I was visiting Beth in Cameroon, we made paneer out of powdered milk using a freshly laundered singlet as a cheese cloth. (I haven’t been able to wear it again since then though…). If using 1/2 gallon of milk, then about 2 to 3 tablespoons of lime juice should be enough, and about a teaspoon of salt.

For equipment, one needs:

  • a large pot (It should hold at least 50% more milk than the amount you plan to boil)
  • cheese cloth (I find double thickness to be a good idea)
  • a long spoon
  • a large strainer

Bring the milk nearly to a boil. When it is ready to have the acid added, it will produce lots of foam, which I why it’s a good idea to use the largest pot possible. Milk will boil over if the pot is too small, and it will create a terrible, foul smelling, difficult-to-clean mess on your stovetop. So don’t look away! You can buy yourself some insurance against boil-overs by rubbing a stick of butter around the top of the pot a few inches below the rim.

(gallery photos are clickable for larger viewing)

After the acid has been added, the milk will separate into chunky, solid curds and yellowish, watery whey.

Wet the cheese cloth with some water, and wring it out. then stretch it over the strainer. Slowly and carefully pour the curdled milk into the strainer. I like to place the strainer over  a second large pot and catch the whey. The whey contains lots of nutrients, and basmati rice cooked in whey is delicious.  If you’re feeling ambitious, you could also cook down the whey and make your own ricotta. (Ricotta means “recooked” in Italian. You cook the milk once to make the first cheese, and cook the whey down a second time to make the ricotta).

The next step is to twist the top of the cheese cloth so that you have a ball of curds trapped inside. Be careful as it will still be fairly hot. Place the cheese cloth on an inverted plate (so that water can run away from the cheese), and set a medium sized pot filled with water on top of the cheese cloth). What you want is to use the mass of the filled pot to squeeze most of the water out of the cheese. I find that a gallon of milk will produce a wheel of paneer about 8 inches across and nearly an inch thick. Half a gallon (or two liters) of milk will generally produce enough paneer for use in most paneer curry recipes that I have seen though.

In the following video, Vahchef Sanjay Thumma describes the 10 minute paneer butter masala cooking method much better than I could:

I’ve learned a lot from his videos and recipes, which can be found on youtube and at vahrehvah.com

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One Comment on “Adventures in Cheesemaking: Paneer Butter Masala!”

  1. Allison Says:

    i’m totally making paneer as soon as i get back from antarctica!


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