Last week a friend from school requested I give a shot to making Indian food, specifically a paneer. In case you didn’t figure it out from the Cabot desserts or the salt baked fish, I am a sucker for requests/challenges and incapable of passing them up. So, if you’ve got requests, feel free to throw them my way and I will do my best to accommodate.
Anyhoo, I’ve been thinking about getting into cheese making for awhile, so reading about paneer and seeing how quick and easy it is made it a bloggin’ no brainer. Around noon on Friday, I texted Conman and asked him to pick me up the necessary whole milk, buttermilk and cheesecloth. Eight hours later, after a dece dinner and post work imbibing with Con and Trisha, I returned home with them to the scene of such memorable meals as fried bone marrow and salmon wings and got started on the cheese.
First up was putting a quart of milk in a large pot over medium/high heat.
The idea was to bring the whole milk to a boil then stir in 8 ounces of cold buttermilk which would help separate the milk into curds and whey. The only problem was that boiling milk almost immediately expands enormously and boils over in seconds no matter how big the pot is. I’ve got scorch marks all over my oven from boiling celery root in milk. Since I was at Con and Trisha’s, I wanted to avoid that so I heated it slowly while standing over it and staring.
Now for a washed out picture of buttermilk.
After sitting and watching the milk for 10 minutes or so with no change, I finally got impatient and stirred the pot, which is when I recognized my lazy mistake. As I stirred, some lightly browned pieces of scorched milk came off the bottom of the pot meaning I should have been stirring the whole time. Whoopsie daisy, now you finally have proof that I’m not perfect.
With the milk starting to boil and not wanting to get boiling stanky milk everywhere, I stirred in the buttermilk. Pretty cool how quickly it started clumping and separating into curds and whey.
After a few more minutes over the heat and some additional stirring, the curds clumped together more and looked ready for the next step.
The pot gets poured directly into a colander lined with a couple layers of cheese cloth.
As soon as the cloth was somewhat handle-able, I pulled up the edges of the cheese cloth and shaped the curds into a ball.
From there I twisted down the cheese cloth from the top until it was tight on the ball of curds and let it hang from the faucet for 30-45 minutes. During that time Con and I watched the Aziz Ansari comedy special with little dialogue between us and occasionally acknowledged each other’s presence in the room. We were pooped dudes. Eventually I walked home with 5 bags attached to various parts of my shoulders and the buttermilk and cheese cloth sack occupying my two hands.
Once home, I took the sack of curds and placed it on a plate lined with paper towels, then put a couple heavy cast iron pans on top of it.
After an additional hour or two under the cast iron pans, soaking the paper towel beneath with all the excess liquid. I like the traditional crumbly paneer, but I was hoping to make something that had a texture a little closer to fresh buffalo mozzarella. When I unwrapped the cheese cloth, I was happy to see it looked the way I had hoped.
The paneer went into the fridge to rest overnight and firm up a bit more.
The next day I wasn’t 100% on what I wanted to do with the paneer but it appeared that my work golf outing wouldn’t get me home until 9, and we had folks coming over for Celts/Heat game 7. So, I had to come up with something.
I decided on an Indian-style pizza, or paneer-za, since I thought it would be easy to throw together for a halftime snack.
Once home, I started things out by throwing a package of thawed spinach, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, crushed red pepper, and salt in the mini-prep.
There was a lot of flavor packed into this mini prep, but I new that the un-salted, un-aged cheese would be pretty bland so I was trying to make up for that. I wanted the combined flavor and texture of the cheese and spinach to have the flavorful punch of sog paneer, but without any knowledge of the Indian spices required to accomplish that. Still came out dece.
After a few pulses in each direction, I had the smooth, creamy, pesto-like consistency I was hoping for.
The pizza stone went into the oven and I preheated to 450F. The nan breads got a heavy smear of the spinach mixture and then slices of the paneer.
Then a bunch of dollops of the masala sauce and into the oven.
After 10-12 minutes in the oven, the smell was fantastic and the paneer had softened up nicely, so the paneer-zas headed from the oven to the cutting board.
This came together pretty well. The naan had a nice crispy crunch without being burned, and the spinach, paneer, and masala was a very tasty combination of flavors. I really enjoyed the texture of the paneer since it was soft and melty when hot without the stringy/stretchy texture that you associate with melted cheese. I like the usual stringiness, but this was completely different and also enjoyable. All in all, I would definitely make it again, but I likely don’t have an excuse to not make my own naan and masala next time.
That was fun, I’ll grill something good this weekend.