paneer / cottage cheese / ricotta

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Paneer is the Indian version of cottage cheese. it's a bit like tofu, rather crumbly, delicately flavored with a slight tang, but will soak up the essence of anything that you cook with it and add a richness that tofu doesn't have. for dishes such as my favorite palak (spinach) paneer.

ricotta can also be made with this recipe, and it's just a difference of treatment after the acidic coagulant is added.

a Spanish version is requesón or requeijão, which uses Seville sour orange as the acidic ingredient, giving it a citrus flavor. directions and recipe over at The Wednesday Chef.

yield: approximately 1 1/2 cup
1/2 gallon whole milk
2-3 tbsp lemon/lime juice or vinegar
Special equipment
large, non-reactive (not aluminum or cast-iron), heavy-bottomed pot
2-4 sheets of cheesecloth or 1 smooth cotton or muslin cloth
cutting board
heavy pot filled with water
colander, non-reactive
1. slowly bring the milk to a boil at medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, to prevent milk from burning at the bottom of the pot. you can do this in a double boiler to ensure that the milk doesn't burn.
2. once the milk has come to a boil, turn heat down to low (a good range to try to maintain it at is 165-185ºF / 75-85ºC), and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. milk will curdle and separate into curds and whey. the whey should gradually become less milky and more clear and the curds will become larger cottage cheese size. if this doesn't occur, add one more tablespoon of lemon juice. this process should take no more than 5 minutes.

note:  if you are making paneer or ricotta, stop stirring the moment that you have fully incorporated in acid, or your curds will come out more mozzarella-like, chewy and rubbery. if you like your squeaky curds 'n whey, this is probably more the texture and consistency that you desire, but for paneer and ricotta, from this point on, you want to conserve the more delicate and crumbly curds, so allow the curds to develop undisturbed, and agitate as little as possible.
3. turn off the heat and let it sit for a few more minutes, to cool down before you handle it. at this point, you can flavor the drained curds with whatever seasonings you desire.
4. draining the whey for different cheeses:
pour into a cheesecloth-lined colander--placed over a bowl to catch the whey if you wanted to use it or just directly over the sink, if not. and according to what you want to make:
under 5 minutes:
you will get a creamier consistency, with smaller curds. eat straight like yogurt with fruits, preserves or honey drizzled on top.
15-20 minutes:
more for ricotta or cottage cheese purposes to be added to lasagna or roll in cannolis. curds are more firm and consistency is more set but still rather soft and moist.
2 hours or more:
good for paneer. the curds will be firmer, more crumbly and drier.
1.  gather up the corners of the cloth and make a sack; squeeze out more whey.
2.  wrap up the cheese in the cheesecloth into a neat little packet and set it on a cutting board tilted at a slight angle.
3.  place the cutting board on a towel to soak up whey and keep the cutting board from sliding about.
4.  place a heavy pot on top to weight it down and press out even more moisture. allow to sit for an hour or two until it gets to the level of firmness you desire.
5.  unwrap the cheese and place in a tightly closed container in the fridge overnight. cut into cubes to be used for any paneer recipe.
5. use within a few days, if possible. paneer can be frozen for 30 days.
if you try and use low-fat milk, you will not get as much curds and therefore less cheese.

pressing the paneer down with a heavy object compacts it enough to allow you to later cut the paneer into cubes. if you want a softer texture like cream cheese, instead of squeezing out the whey, just tie up the pouch to a wooden spoon and suspend in a stock pot, in a cool location, for about 1 hour and you will get a spreadable cheese; the longer the cheese sets for, the more solid it becomes.

possible to use the acidic whey instead of buttermilk for some recipes. Less fat and it has nutrients that would be a shame to let go to waste.

this video from shows you what the paneer should feel like, warning against compacting the paneer too much. the website also demonstrates adding herbs and seasoning if you want a more flavorful paneer.

this how-to for ricotta cheese on has some good tips for making ricotta, which is pretty close to paneer...and they utilize a microwave to simplify the process.

also explicit directions for making ricotta from food scientist, Dr. Fankhauser, with pictures.

Alton Brown also has a segment on GoodEats for how to make cottage cheese.
Cuisine   IndianCooking Method   Boiled
Prep Time   less than 15 minutesCooking Time   less than 15 minutes
Features   Low-Sodium, Vegetarian

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