The homemade paneer is tender and delicate and extremely creamy - and the star of this simple tikka.
I try to avoid collecting single use kitchen utensils - rockers at the garlic and egg slicers, herb scissors and groove knives - anything so specific I forget it, and it gets stuck in the nooks and crannies of my kitchen, preventing mestubbornly haunts to open a drawer or fall dangerously out of a cupboard to hit me on the head. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. I insist on taking my dented paneer press with me whenever I move, even though I only use it once every few years, so often. I would have continued to neglect it if some friends in New York hadn't dragged me around with some lovely wispy photos of a tikka paneer dish in Dhamaka, a restaurant I've never even visited.
In these pictures, which were all I had to do, the paneer appeared in thick slices, smeared with a turmeric marinade full of ajwain seeds, parts blackened with charcoal, but relatively white in the center. The photos were accompanied by fanatic enthusiasm for its intense flavor and impossible tenderness. To me it almost looked like fresh chenna, the big creamy curd you have before it's completely squeezed to make paneer - always soft and delicate, still full of moisture - a tenuous state that you can only reach if you pane yourself. Maybe, I thought, it was time to find my paneer.
When C hintan Pandya opened his first restaurant, he bought his ready-to-use paneer from a supplier. "But it just wasn't the product I grew up with " he says. With the paneer made, the whey is stretched to form a much firmer block, in part so that it can be packaged and transported more easily, lasts longer, and stores better when pan-fried and simmered in a sauce. , as is often the case in restaurants. In Dhamaka, Pandya's tikka is simply marinated and roasted, so the paneer itself is the star. TheyRealized that if he wanted it the way he remembered, he would have to do it himself - a nuisance, but not because paneer is difficult to do. It is one of the simpler fresh cheeses for home cooks because it is quick and does not require rennet to form the curd, just an easy to find acid like lemon juice or vinegar. But a paneer operation takes up valuable space in a busy restaurant kitchen, and the yield, as with all cheeses, is extremely low - a gallon of milk does just enough for a paneer order, which means the restaurant goes through about 25 to 30 gallons of high fat milk per day.
On top of these little worries, Pandya knew that diners would not be ready to pay dearly for paneer, which lacks the built-in luxury status of cheeses served in restaurants. "You are willing to pay $ 16 forburrata without blinking, ”says business partner Roni Mazumdar,“ but are you going to pay that for paneer? I would, if only I could make it to the restaurant. Instead, I used a flashlight, on my hands and knees, to rummage under the counter of my paneer press - a straight-sided aluminum sieve that looks exactly like a small perforated cake pan. . I was both annoyed to have to search so hard and delighted to have such a good excuse to use it.
J Washed the press, covered it with a clean tea towel, and brought a gallon of whole milk to a boil to start the process. After adding the vinegar and turning off the heat, I stirred gently, almost stroking the milk with a wooden spoon, letting it flow into the pan like a paddle. The curd began to separate from the whey and the liquid turned a pale green color,cloudy and yellowish in seconds. The curd was large and fluffy, floating dreamily through the pot. As I poured the pot into a colander they wobbled together as the whey flowed out and the steam rose. After a few minutes, they positively resembled cheese - a soft ball with the scent of milk but still not firm enough to slice and bake. I put a can of tomatoes on the press, just for a few minutes, to help shape the paneer, and then unwrapped it while it was still soft and brittle.
Paneer this fresh and still hot I could eat with a spoon. But I wanted to do the tikka I had heard about, or at least a version of it. In a small food processor, I mixed a thick marinade and yogurt seasoned with garlic, ginger and chili peppers, a lot of carom seeds and garam masala, and I brushed it one the paneer, placing the pieces on slices of red onion. Roasted, then broiled for just a few minutes, the paneer started charring around the edges and the onions curled up and golden brown. At the table, I sprinkled it with unripe mango and chili powder, squeezed lime juice on top and put the pieces in buttered buns. It wasn't exactly Pandya's paneer, but it was tender, creamy, tangy, and tangy - a very good reason to move the paneer press to a more privileged position in my kitchen, to remind me of the use more often.
Recipe: Paneer Ajwaini Tikka (Marinated roast Paneer)