Recipe updated with a better and easier method, October 2017!
My first attempts at making my own paneer (Indian cottage cheese) were 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-making-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 squeezing out the whey than you imagine and get something good and heavy to weight it overnight before use (a couple of cans would do). If you don’t the curds won’t cohere and it will never become smooth textured and solid enough to slice.
After a lot of searching, I found this simple little and super cheap tofu press on Amazon which gives you just the right depth of paneer when using at least 2-litres of milk:
A little pointer regarding the cheesecloth – when the paneer has been pressed, I carefully 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 as well. 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 scorch 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:
I recently updated this post as I found a better and easier way to make your own paneer in the Instant Pot. After much googling of Indian food blogs, I discovered a lot of home cooks were actually pressure cooking the milk and acid on low pressure, then straining and pressing. Job done! No need to stand around waiting for the milk to come to the boil and interestingly, I find you get far more curds from this method as well as them being a lot more sturdy too. This means they can be pressed very firmly and your paneer will be very easy to slice, not all crumbly.
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 (UHT milk works a treat too)
- 60 ml lemon or lime juice (or distilled white vinegar)
- 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 and lemon juice into the Instant Pot, pop the lid on and close the valve. Set to Manual and adjust to Low Pressure then set to 4 minutes. When finished, allow a NPR.
Line your strainer/tofu press with cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey through them. Go slowly as there will be a large volume of whey to strain.
Gather up the cheesecloth, squeeze and press the paneer flat. Sit the press's lid on top of the cheesecloth and weight it down with some heavy cans. Sit the press on a plate and chill overnight before slicing and using.
Paneer can be sealed in a tupperware box with or without water in (there are contrasting reports of whether storing underwater makes it more or less firm). It will keep unused for up to 3 days.
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