My first attempts at making my own paneer (Indian cottage cheese) where a bit disappointing. I remember crumbly chunks of blandness that I didn’t really know what to do with, nor how to make as good as it possibly can be. Once I’d gotten the knack for making Greek Yogurt in my Instant Pot though, I was bitten by the homemade dairy product bug and soon enough, I was producing snowy white blocks of the most delicious, mild and creamy homemade cheese you can imagine. Instant Pot Paneer is super fast to make and wonderful to eat.
If the only time you have had cottage cheese is in the form of little ovoid nuggets in a pot full of whey (how it comes in the UK) then this solid block of “cottage” cheese may look unusual to you. But it is the process of making a soft curd-based cheese that makes it cottage cheese – it’s just that the British version stops after the curdling whilst the Indian version is pressed. When it comes to the curdling process, you need something acidic to denature the proteins and start the clumps forming – I use lemon or lime juice but you could use white distilled vinegar or some yogurt, although you would need more yogurt to get the curdling started. I use citrus as I don’t want a vinegary taste to the cheese, although the most of it is strained off in the whey.
And speaking of the pressing process, my top tip is to be much more forceful when squeeze out the whey than you imagine, and get something good and heavy to weight it overnight before use (a couple of cans of beans would do). If you don’t the curds won’t cohere and it will never become smooth textured and solid enough to slice. As it’s pretty hard to track down a traditional paneer press in the UK (let me know if you can find one), I’ve been experimenting with the kit I already have and I’m delighted that my Silit Steamer Basket that I bought for use in my Instant Pot is pretty much bang on size wise! It’s handy to have another use for it, as it’s not the cheapest accessory (although I do love it). to help me press it, I use the base from a 6 inch round loose bottomed cake tin too! Actually, who needs a press when you can get all McGyver with things laying around your kitchen already!
And a little pointer about the cheesecloth – when the paneer has been pressed, I careful unwrap the cloth and then rinse under running hot water to get any little chunks off then soap up with washing up liquid before soaking in some Milton (baby steriliser). I throw it in the washing in the machine with my tea towels when I’ve got a load to go on too. It’s handy to have for paneer and also yogurt making. Even thick kitchen roll isn’t really strong enough to do all the wringing you need with paneer but it will do if you really don’t want to wait before you try making some (I wouldn’t blame you)!
Once you have your pristine white cubes of loveliness, you need some ideas for how to cook them. It does need some seasoning so don’t forget to add a little salt to your finished paneer dishes as this is one cheese which has none actually in it. One of the most traditional recipes I know is palak paneer – and the way my friend Richa of My Food Story makes a fresh spinach purée before quickly cooking with spices and then plopping in big cubes of paneer is just perfection. I can’t recommend her method enough, it’s addictive to eat.
Another way of serving your paneer is to marinade it for a short while in yogurt and spices before grilling it and serving in a curry sauce. I love this way as you get little scorched marks on the cheese and it firms up a little so it has more texture. This restaurant style paneer tikka masala from Shari of My Fancy Pantry is a new discovery of mine but I absolutely love it and will make it often.
So there you have it – a simple method for making paneer in your Instant Pot with all my top tips, and a couple of wonderful recipes to help you use it! I hope you enjoy it as much as we do 😀
A soft homemade Indian cheese, also referred to as "cottage cheese" although the curds are pressed until it forms a block, unlike British cottage cheese which comes in curd form. Delicious in all manner of wonderful curries!
Yields about 330g paneer.
- 2 litres full fat milk don't use semi or skimmed milk
- 60-80 ml lemon or lime juice
- Your Instant Pot!
- A slotted spoon
- Cheesecloth or several layers of strong kitchen roll I much prefer cheesecloth as you can twist it up tightly to press the paneer
- A small strainer* or if you're lucky, a paneer mould A diameter of about 6 inches is just about right for this amount of paneer
- A small plate or saucer**
- Heavy cans to weight the paneer with
Unless you are planning to keep the whey, I start by giving the sink and draining board a really good scrub and clean so that I can strain my paneer straight into the sink. Move unnecessary items and cleaning products out the way too.
Pour the milk into the Instant Pot, pop the lid on and press "Yogurt". Ensure it displays Boil (press Adjust if it doesn't - you want it to heat the milk, not incubate it). Allow the Yogurt function to run a cycle, which should take 25-30 minutes.
When the beeper sounds, hit cancel then press Sauté so that the milk remains hot whilst you add the lemon juice.
Slowly dribble the lemon juice in a little at a time, stirring with a slotted spoon. Go slowly and keep on stirring - little curds should start forming after adding about a third of the juice. It takes about 5 minutes to get lots of curd forming and the remaining liquid (or "whey") will start looking translucent and have a yellow-green hue to it (very similar to the whey you get when you strain my Instant Pot Greek Yogurt). This is when it's ready to strain.
Line your strainer/steamer basket with cheesecloth or strong paper towels and pour the curds and whey through them. Go slowly as there will be a large volume of whey to strain.
Once almost all of the whey is gone, press the curds down with your spoon and then twist up the cheesecloth really tightly (be quite forceful with it!) to squeeze the rest out. Press it down flat into the strainer you are using, fold the cheesecloth neatly down and place the small plate on top. Weight it down with a couple of food cans (which I wash before using) and place the whole set up on another plate or tray and refrigerate for at least 6 hours if not overnight.
To use, carefully unpeel the cheesecloth and cut the paneer into chunks. It will be easier to slice neatly with a knife greased with a little flavourless oil. I store my paneer in a sealed tupperware box but many people store it in fresh water, changing it every day. It will keep unused for up to 3 days.
*= I use my Silit steamer basket that I bought specifically to use in my Instant Pot - it's just the right size and it's nice to have another use for it. See photos in the post.
**= I use the base of a 6 inch loose bottomed cake tin to press my paneer with but a small saucer would work. If you don't have one, then fold the cheesecloth down neatly and place the cans on top instead.
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