How to make paneer (chhana) at home
Paneer might be widely popular all over India, but its close cousin chhana is the ultimate conqueror of the world of Bengali sweets.
Paneer is one of the most neutral ingredients in Indian cooking, which makes it ideal for use in a wide array of curries. A good paneer must be well formed and not crumbly. Its structure shouldn’t be too tight, otherwise it will become tough and not absorb any curry.
While paneer is especially adored among aficionados of some branches of north Indian cuisine in particular—it is the vegetarian’s delight—its close cousin chhana (or chhena) holds a special place in Bengali cooking. From being the base for all manner of Bengali sweets (sondesh, roshogolla, anyone?), it is also used to make chhana’r torkari, a curry with mildly spiced chhana koftas, which is a beloved delicacy.
COOKING TIME 30 minutes
YIELDS 300 g paneer (6 people)
|1.5 kg||Whole milk|
|30 g||White vinegar or lime juice|
- Boiling pot
- Wooden spoon
- Large bowl
- Muslin | cheesecloth
- Sharp knife
- In a saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Turn off the heat and add vinegar/lime juice.
- Stir until you notice the ‘curds’ separating from the ‘whey’ (a translucent liquid).
- Place a strainer over your mixing bowl, and the cheesecloth over the strainer. Pour the contents of your saucepan over this contraption. By doing so you are collecting the curds in the cheesecloth and allowing the whey to drain into the bowl below.
- Gather the edges of the cheesecloth and lift the paneer in a bundle. Using your palm, gently mould the sides and top of the sack so as to close any gaping holes or cracks.
- Hang it over your sink and allow the remaining water in the paneer to drip naturally (for about 30 minutes). Do not squeeze or put any weight on it. Trying to force the water out or compress it too much will compact the paneer, closing all its pores and not allowing it to absorb the curry later on.
- If you need chhana, you can now unwrap the bundle and proceed to crumble/mash it according to your recipe. But if you’re going for paneer, after 30 minutes of hanging, place the bundle in the refrigerator and chill it for at least an hour. This will harden the fat in the curds and allow for the cutting of sharp, clean cubes. It also helps to warm the blade of your knife in a glass of hot water. When cutting the paneer into cubes, slide your knife instead of pressing it down. This will give you perfect, clean cuts. Divide the paneer in cubes as specified by your recipe.