Monday, June 30, 2008

The Grand Paneer Makhni Experiment

I had promised to check out Lekhni's Easy Paneer Makhni recipe, having been on the lookout for a shortcut from the multiple steps needed to make paneer. Here's my step-by-step experience.

1. Soak 1 tbsp cashew pieces in warm water for 15-20 minutes.

Time to rummage through the pantry. I found the cashews hidden behind the raisin box, and plopped them into a bowl of warm water.

2. Grind 1 tomato, some onion and an inch of ginger into a puree. Or you can use ginger-garlic paste and tomato puree.

Open fridge for tomato, and realise I have none except that everlasting basket of uneaten cherry tomatoes purchased at the farmer's market 10 days ago. Grab about 1/2 dozen of them and get ready to puree them as per instructions.
My ancient Osterizer purees them fairly efficiently, before starting to leak at the bottom. I hurriedly transfer it to another bowl and note that the quantity is insufficient for a family of 6 (5 adult appetites + 1 finicky 2nd grader). Back to the fridge for more tomatoes, ginger and one more large onion. Now the quantity looks right. ( Lekhni, you should have specified the recipe serves two!)

3. Melt butter in a frying pan and add the cottage cheese. Fry a little until it clumps together and turns just a little brown.

Ah, the fun part. I heat up two precious tablespoons of shuddh ghee (fresh from the dairies of the Hare Krishnas we visited just last weekend), and plop down the whole container of cottage cheese from the supermarket into it. Now, for it to clump. I stir, it turns mildly watery, as some of the cheese curds start to , horror of horrors, melt into the pan. No sign of clumping, just the whole cottage cheese starting to get more and more liquidy. What to do now? I try draining it into a colander with a vessel underneath. Maybe it will clump as it drains.

4. Pour the contents of the pan into a bowl. Now fry the onion-tomato puree (or the ginger garlic paste and tomato puree) in the same pan until the oil separates out. If you are really pressed for time, use two pans - one for the paneer and another for the puree.

This was easy enough. Though it did take a while longer than I expected to get rid of the raw onion smell. A mommy tip (from my mother): Fry the onion/ginger/garlic combo first in oil so that they cook together faster, then add the tomato puree.

5. Add all the spices you like to the puree - garam masala, dhania powder, asafoetida, turmeric powder. For chilli powder, I add the Kashmiri chilli powder, not too spicy and nice orange color. Also add a pinch of kasuri methi.

No problems with this step, went like a charm.

6. Simmer this stuff for a while and then throw in the cashew paste, the whey-butter mix from the paneer.

Full disclosure: being lazy and not wanting to have the extra step of making cashew paste separately, I just ground them in with the tomato/onion/ginger. So, I just added the whey butter mix from the paneer, which looked suspiciously like large curd cottage cheese which would refuse to clump, at this point.

7. While the masala mix simmers, cool the paneer (hopefully clumped by now) and squeeze it a few times and press it between 2 cutting boards, or just flatten it with your palm. The paneer should be a nice solid mass now. You should be easily able to cut into into cubes.

No, the paneer wasn't clumped. I pressed it duly between the cutting board and it still kept falling apart into the largish pieces. Wrong brand of cottage cheese, I decided. That's what you get when you fall for the hype of 'at least 4% milk fat' on the label, not paying attention to the prime ingredient of 'nonfat milk, nonfat whey, nonfat milk powder, carrageenan, trisodium phosphate, etc. etc.' This store brand of cottage cheese is so Not making it on to my shopping list anytime in the future.

8. Add the paneer to the masala just before serving. If you add it too early, there is the risk that it might dissolve.

The gravy was coming along nicely, for all the trouble the paneer was giving me. I decided that it could at least form the basis for a gravy with green peas and dumped a package of them in straight from the freezer. My mom tried shaping the cottage cheese into balls, but they stubbornly refused to hold. Taking out another pan, I decided to try a last-ditch attempt to fry these pitiful ball-lets into some semblance of paneer kofta. More tablespoons of the precious ghee warmed up, I added the balls. No go, they started exuding a peculiar goo,as they fell apart.
"Hopeless case, Amma. Give me the rest. I might as well fry the whole thing and see what happens".
Magic happened. They started clumping together and forming a single mass. Yippeee! Eureka! So this is what Lekhni was driving at. A few minutes later, I had my nice solid mass of clumped paneer, which I set to cool and cut into cubes for a final addition to the peas masala.

Thanks for the recipe, Lekhni, including the secret to a passably thick gravy, which I have never really mastered till I tried yours. And if I might suggest a small correction to your recipe, please add the prep step of draining the cottage cheese completely before attempting to fry it.


Lekhni said...

Oops,I am sorry,I should have mentioned that you should simmer the butter/ ghee when you add the cottage cheese. I had that happen to me once too - I fried the cottage cheese on high flame and it all dissolved. Then I had to add more cheese (which clumped) but it did become a delicious thick gravy :) I am glad you figured it out despite my instructions :)

Sujatha said...

Serendipity always occurs when you least expect it, as it did for me, Lekhni.

Now off on my quest for the perfect pie crust (I have several bowlfuls worth of sour cherries ripening in my yard, have to get them before the birds this year!). I'm on experimental pie crust #2, #1 having turned out too tough.