Shiftwork Bites: Paneer

Categories: Recipes

Paneer Cheese Course.JPG
The realities of Shiftwork Bites cooking - little space, little equipment, one burner - dictate what I can and cannot reasonably prepare at work. A lot of my meals tend to be one-pot affairs, as this makes setup and cleanup much easier, and doesn't stretch me too thin. I am still at work, remember. The overt simplicity of many of these efforts often inspires me to find ways to elevate them just a bit. If I revert to 1970s casserole cooking, making open-and-dump, heat-and-eat entrees, I might as well give up the ghost.

Since I'm pretty committed to this project, I've made a habit of doing what I can to up the ante a bit. I might make stock the day before, for homemade (should that be office-made?) turkey and bacon gravy on Thanksgiving, or perhaps I'll shave an entire head of cauliflower by hand (it takes forever) for shrimp and cauliflower grits. A few weeks ago, I fumigated the entire office with capsaicin, toasting chiles for mole. Most recently, I decided to make cheese.

As soon as I decided that I was going to make Paneer Makhani, I lit on the idea of making my own paneer. It's actually a relatively simple process, and results in cheese with a much silkier texture and fresher flavor than anything you can get at the store -- if you make it properly. I didn't.

There are basically three methods for making cheese, all of which work by forcing the casein proteins in milk to clump together, forming curds. The method used for paneer, acid/heat coagulation, goes an extra step and forces whey proteins (which will not coagulate using rennet coagulation, the process used for aged cheeses) to coagulate along with the casein. As you may have guessed, acid/heat coagulation works by heating milk to just below the boiling point, then adding acid. The heat causes the whey proteins to denature, allowing them to coagulate with the acid-curdled casein proteins.

For my paneer, I added half a gallon of 2 percent milk to my electric skillet, and set the heat to medium. I didn't have a thermometer with me, so I made a guess as to when the milk was approaching 212 Fahrenheit, and added 2T of lemon juice. I shut off the heat, stirred in the lemon juice, and waited. Slowly, the mixture began to thicken a bit, as small clumps of curd began forming in the pan.

I waited and waited for the curd to form completely, but to no avail. Dejected, I poured the curds and whey through a cheese-cloth lined strainer, and found about two cups of yogurt-like curd settled in the bottom. The curd was extremely loose and fine, and was certainly not going to work for my dish. I gently wrung out more whey, suspended the cheese-cloth bundle over a bowl, and refrigerated it. On my way home from work, I bought some paneer at Fiesta, and used that for dinner the following night.

Not wanting to totally abandon my cheese, I weighted it to remove additional moisture, then compressed it into a log and sealed it in a zip-top bag, removing as much air as possible to firm up the texture. Once it was firmed up and holding its shape, I sliced it into rounds and began converting it into an ad-hoc composed cheese course.

Two circles of cheese went down on each plate, along with some local honey for sweetness, pimentón for smoke and just a hint of heat, ground pistachio for salt and crunch, and a halved dried calimyrna fig for a bit of richness. The cheese was subtle, with milky creaminess and just a hint of tang from the acid. The other flavors paired nicely, and were much improved by the addition of a bit more paprika and some fleur de sel. While I was disappointed to have been unable to use the cheese in the main course, it was nice to turn it into something tasty as a cap-stone to the meal.

Upon further reflection, I decided that the culprit was the ultra-pasteurized milk I'd bought. I'm not exactly sure why (partial denaturing of the milk proteins, perhaps), but the process disrupts coagulation during cheese making. If I had paid a bit more attention at the store, we probably would have had homemade cheese for dinner, but nothing for dessert.

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Francesco Orodinapoli
Francesco Orodinapoli

The following recipe should prove foolproof. If it doesn't work, there's something else working to prevent it. 1 gallon whole milk 6 tbs fresh lemon juice cheesecloth Bring milk to boil over medium heat, add lemon juice, (option: 1 tsp salt) and stir until whey separates from milk solids and appears translucent(5 minutes). Pour milk in cheesecloth lined strainer, let drain. Discard whey or use in soup. Tie the cheesecloth "bag" to faucet and continue draining (3 to 4 minutes). Untie cheesecloth, flatten cheese and pat into 1 inch thick circle. Rewrap in cheesecloth, place in flat dish on edge on sink. Twist end of cheesecloth and drape over edge of dish (I think to facilitate dripping in the direction of the sink). Place another flat dish on top of the cheese and weight dish with heavy object. Excess moisture should drip through ends of cheesecloth into sink. Let drain 30 minutes.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Yeah, that's basically what I did, Jay. That's why I say I'm prettysure that it was the UHT milk causing problems. Thanks for sharingyour process!

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Ultra Pasteurization is simply a different method of the same thing, but subjects teh milk to higher temps for a longer time. This, in effect, partially cooks the milk, and can contribute "cooked" flavors due to maillard browning reactions that occur at the temps used in the UHT process. While the UHT process is used for boxed milk, it is also used in some traditionally packaged milk, as a shelf-life extender. I did not buy boxed milk for this, but unintentionally grabbed a 1/2 gallon carton of ultrapasteruized milk from the dairy case at the store.You can, however, get unpasteurized milk directly from some dairy farms.

Doc Ricky
Doc Ricky

Slight correction, the UHT (ultrapasteurization) process is hotter than standard pasteurization, but a lot faster (maybe a second or two vs 20-30 seconds). The Malliard reaction requires low moisture, and even higher temperatures (about 20C higher than the highest UHT process) to happen, so I doubt if Malliard reaction products are present at any significant levels in UHT milk.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Doc Ricky,

I didn't blindly site McGee. I refreshed my memory by reading the section on Maillard prior to posting that comment, and have reread it several times since, and it most certainly does not say that foods require an extended period of exposure to that temperature (the temps used in UHT pasteurization). In fact, it says somewhat the opposite.

"Both caramelization and Maillard browning proceed at a rapid rate only at relatively high temperatures. Caramelization in table sugar becomes noticeable at around 330F/165C, Maillard browning perhaps 100F/50C below that."

So what McGee is actually saying here is that Maillard reactions "proceed at a rapid rate" and become "noticeable" at temperatures starting at around 230F/115C, well within the range of UHT processes.

Again, the objection based on UHT treated milk being a "moist food" doesn't stand up to an analysis of the Maillard process, as it is not the moisture itself that prevents (or slows, really) the reactions. Rather, it is the fact that the boiling point of water prevents the interiors of moist foods from reaching the temps at which Maillard reactions can proceed quickly. With the UHT process, the milk is rapidly brought to temperatures above the threshold for rapid Maillard changes. The moisture issue doesn't really come into play here. If you re-read the text, McGee says just this, that water content prevents the interiors of foods from rising above 212F, but once they do, Maillard reactions can proceed. I think that we can agree that the UHT process brings the total volume of the milk, not just the exterior, to temps exceeding those given by McGee as necessary for rapid development of Maillard compounds. Thus, the fact that it is "moist" is really immaterial.

Concerning the "improper comparison" of evaporated milk: I was in no way trying to say that, since evap milk shows maillard browning, it is proof that the same occurs in UHT milk. It was not a comparison of the two processes, simply a practical counter to your initial claim that "The Maillard reaction requires . . .even higher temperatures (about 20C higher than the highest UHT process) to happen"

Clearly, if you read the section on Slow Browning in Moist Foods (which I'm assuming is the section you're referencing when you tell me to "read the text of that page"), there are many other factors, length of time certainly being one, that can contribute to the Maillard process; it's not just about temperature, as you seemed to argue in your initial response.

Again, though, McGee is clear on what he's talking about regarding slow browning in moist foods, beginning the section "There are exceptions to the rule that browning reactions require temperatures above the boil." Clearly, the slow browning of moist foods is merely an artifact of their (usual) inability to come to temperatures above the boil.

As for Maillard compounds present in UHT milk, I trust my palate on this one. Much of it has a strong cooked flavor, and some has a vague tannish tint. These are artifacts of the Maillard reactions. I also trust the literature. Just do a quick google search for "UHT Milk Maillard" and other variants, and you'll find both anecdotal evidence, and scientific studies ranging from industry to scholarly research, much of it explicitly dedicated to studying Maillard reactions in UHT milk. I provided one such article in my previous comment, though you declined to address it. Here's another:

http://journals.cambridge.org/...

Interestingly, many of them find two causes for Maillard reactions in UHT milk. Both the process itself and the long shelf-lives of the product contribute to the reactions. Studies find that Maillard compounds are present in milk immediately after UHT treatment, and that the products can significantly increase over time.

I suppose it's possible that, while Maillard reactions definitively can and do occur at the temperatures utilized in UHT processing and are present in UHT treated milk, the perceptible portion of those resultant compounds comes from the slower reactions that occur after the initial treatment. Regardless, UHT processes DO result in Maillard reactions and compounds in milk. Even if you want to say that it's the slow-reaction compounds I'm tasting, the fact remains that they are enabled by the UHT process, itself.

Then again, McGee actually speaks specifically to the process in UHT milk, saying "UHT method, which involves heating milk at 265-300F/130-150C. . .for 1-3 seconds. The longer UHT treatment imparts a cooked flavor and slightly brown color to milk; cream contains less lactose and protein, so its color and flavor are less affected." (McGee, 23)

So, UHT milk tastes cooked, and turns brown. Sounds like Maillard to me. Also interesting to note is the fact that the lower concentration of proteins and carbohydrates(the reacting compounds in Maillard processes) in cream accounts for the decreased presence of "cooked flavor and slightly brown color."

So, Doc, I am unswayed. The facts are with me on this one. I truly appreciate the discussion, though. It was nice to have a reason to look more closely at this, and always nice to revisit McGee. I always learn something when I open that book (did you know Maillard reactions are the cause of the dark color of true Balsamic vinegar?). Let’s keep these sorts of discussions going, though. Hopefully, we’ll all learn something along the way.

Matthew
Matthew

...and boom goes the dynamite.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

This might be a silly question, but are you thinking of caramelizationtemperature, instead of maillard? Caramelization does typically occur attemps higher than UHT, I think.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

I believe UHT goes up to just over 300F, and maillard reactions begin tonoticeably brown and flavor foods at 250F or so (McGee, 779). Similarmaillard changes affect the color and flavor of evaporated milk, which istypically only heated to about 250F, if I remember correctly. I'm sureyou've noticed the effect in evap milk. Have you tried UHT milk? Not all,but some of it definitely tastes semi-cooked, with a slight nuttiness that'sactually not unpleasant.

Besides, maillards can occur at room temperature, in the right conditions(alkalinity, dehydration, high amine content, etc.) and if given enoughtime. Not that that's the case here, and heat certainly speeds the process.

Also, as for the low moisture requirement, that's mostly due to the factthat surface evaporation will cause surface heat to reduce, and it's notuntil all surface moisture has evaporated that temps can increase tomaillard levels for the reactions to occur quickly. I think that, due to thenature of the process, where the milk is in a sealed system and heated underpressure to a continuous temp, this issue goes away, and the reactions canbegin at slightly lowered temps, but the process certainly hits the maillardmark.

Also, you may find this interesting:http://www.milktest.com/news/p...

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

I believe UHT goes up to just over 300F, and maillard reactions begin to noticeably brown and flavor foods at 250F or so (McGee, 779). Similar maillard changes affect the color and flavor of evaporated milk, which is typically only heated to about 250F, if I remember correctly. I'm sure you've noticed the effect in evap milk. Have you tried UHT milk? Not all, but some of it definitely tastes semi-cooked, with a slight nuttiness that's actually not unpleasant.

Besides, maillards can occur at room temperature, in the right conditions (alkalinity, dehydration, high amine content, etc.) and if given enough time. Not that that's the case here, and heat certainly speeds the process.

Also, as for the low moisture requirement, that's mostly due to the fact that surface evaporation will cause surface heat to reduce, and it's not until all surface moisture has evaporated that temps can increase to maillard levels for the reactions to occur quickly. I think that, due to the nature of the process, where the milk is in a sealed system and heated under pressure to a continuous temp, this issue goes away, and the reactions can begin at slightly lowered temps, but the process certainly hits the maillard mark.

This might be a silly question, but are you thinking of caramelization temperature, instead of maillard? Caramelization does typically occur at temps higher than UHT, I think.

Doc Ricky
Doc Ricky

Read the text of that page, noting that Maillard reactions in moist foods require an extended period of exposure to the temperature. Depending on the production pipeline, UHT milk is exposed for seconds at best. Evaporated milk is literally cooked for an extended period of time, that's not a proper comparison.

Matthew
Matthew

what i was trying to say was that i've never seen different degrees of pasteurized milk in the dairy case. maybe i've never really looked.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Ah. Well, yes. There are actually 4 or 5 distinct pasteurizationmethods in common usage, all of which use different temp/time combos.

Matthew
Matthew

when you say ultra-pasteurized are you talking about the kind that doesn't need refrigeration and is in the box, or the normal pasteurized milk in the dairy case? because i don't know where one would find non-pasteurized milk.

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