|Alternative names||Chhana, chhena|
|Place of origin||South Asia and Middle East|
|Region or state||South Asia and Middle East|
|Main ingredients||Strained curdled milk|
|Other information||Rich source of milk protein|
Paneer (pronounced [pəniːr]) is a fresh cheese common in South Asian cuisine. It is an unaged, acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese or curd cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice, vinegar, or any other food acids. Its crumbly and moist form is called chhena in eastern India.
Paneer is prepared by adding food acid, such as lemon juice, vinegar, citric acid or yogurt, to hot milk to separate the curds from the whey. The curds are drained in muslin or cheesecloth and the excess water is pressed out. The resulting paneer is dipped in chilled water for 2–3 hours to improve its texture and appearance. From this point, the preparation of paneer diverges based on its use and regional tradition.
In most Nepalese cuisines, the curds are wrapped in cloth, placed under a heavy weight such as a stone slab for two to three hours, and then cut into cubes for use in curries. Pressing for a shorter time (approximately 20 minutes) results in a softer, fluffier cheese.
In Indian and Bengali cuisine, the curds are beaten or kneaded by hand into a dough-like consistency called ছানা sana in Assamese, ছানা chhana in Bengali, or ଛେନା chhena in Oriya, Maithili and Bihari. In these regions, sana/chhana/chhena is distinguished from ponir, a salty semi-hard cheese with a sharper flavor and high salt content. Hard ponir is typically eaten in slices at teatime with biscuits or various types of bread, or deep-fried in a light batter.
Dating back to ancient India, paneer remains the most common type of cheese used in traditional South Asian cuisines. The use of paneer is more common in Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh due to the prominence of milk in their cuisine. It is sometimes wrapped in dough and deep-fried or served with either spinach (palak paneer) or peas (mattar paneer).
The well-known rasgulla features plain chhana beaten by hand and shaped into balls which are boiled in syrup. The sana / chhana / chhena used in such cases is manufactured by a slightly different procedure from paneer; it is drained but not pressed, so that some moisture is retained, which makes for a soft, malleable consistency. It may, however, be pressed slightly into small cubes and curried to form a dalna in Maithili,Oriya and Bengali cuisines.
Some paneer dishes include:
- Chhena Murgi
- Mattar paneer (paneer with peas)
- Saag paneer
- Shahi paneer (paneer cooked in a rich, Mughlai curry)
- Paneer tikka (a vegetarian version of chicken tikka, paneer placed on skewers and roasted)
- Paneer tikka masala
- Kadai paneer
- Chili paneer (with spicy chilies, onions and green peppers, usually served dry and garnished with spring onions)
- Paneer pakora (paneer fritters)
- Palak paneer
- Paneer capsicum (paneer and bell peppers in raisin crème sauce)
- Khoya paneer
- Paneer bhurji
Most international fast food restaurants in India offer paneer. McDonalds India serves the McSpicy Paneer and Paneer Wrap. In the United Kingdom, Subway has started serving a saag paneer patty. The Tamatanga urban Indian cuisine restaurant also serves a paneer wrap. Taco Bell India serves a paneer and potato burrito. Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's have pizzas with paneer toppings.
Anari, a fresh mild whey cheese produced in Cyprus, is very similar in taste and texture to fresh Indian paneer.
Circassian cheese is produced using a similar method and is close in consistency to paneer, but is usually salted.
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