Paneer, also known as cottage cheese, is a popular milk product used all over the world. It might be an acquired taste for many but it certainly adds a great flavor to sauces and curries.
Known for its soft and creamy consistency, it is also packed with essential nutrients and is rich in protein. It makes for an excellent meat substitute and is also great for people who do not eat traditional cheese. You might have a lot of it and want to freeze it for later but are worried about thawing it.
Paneer can be frozen to keep it from spoiling and you can thaw it whenever you want to use it. This process is important because it should be softened before being used so that the texture/taste isn’t affected.
How to store paneer
Learning how to store paneer is the most important thing, once it goes bad you can’t do anything about it. It’s often difficult to manage the shelf life of paneer but it’s easy if you follow a few steps. The best way is to store it in the refrigerator by using a damp muslin cloth or a bowl of water.
Using a muslin cloth
- Place the paneer blocks on a plate.
- Take the damp muslin cloth and wrap the blocks.
- It’s important that the cloth is slightly wet to retain the moisture of the paneer.
- Remember to wet the muslin cloth every six hours as the paneer is likely to lose moisture in the fridge.
- Continue to do this until you’re ready to use the paneer.
Make sure to keep the entire paneer blocks covered in the muslin cloth. Avoid taking the blocks out of the fridge until you’re ready to use them.
Using a bowl of water
If you don’t have muslin cloth, you can try another method. You just need a bowl with a lid and some water. Here are the steps:
- Take the bowl and fill it with water.
- Put the paneer blocks in the water and make sure they are completely covered. The water will keep them moist.
- Cover with the lid, it should be airtight. Any part of the paneer that is exposed to air will turn sour or even hard.
- Place in the fridge.
This will keep the paneer fresh for up to three days but you have to change the water every day. This works for both store-bought and fresh paneer.
Can you freeze paneer?
Yes, you can freeze paneer whether it is cooked or uncooked. Cooking it first will take more time, but it is definitely the best way to go.
Freezing cooked paneer
You might be worried about your paneer turning out hard or spongy. To avoid this you can fry the blocks lightly in some unflavored oil to retain the texture after freezing. Here are the steps:
- Slice up the paneer into smaller sizes that you prefer.
- You can spice or add some flavor to your paneer at this point. Use any spices or herbs of your choice.
- Get a pan and add some oil to it. It’s best to use flavorless oil.
- Fry the paneer on each side until golden brown. Shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
- Remove from the oil and place the fried paneer slices/cubes on some paper towel. This should help drain off the excess oil.
- Allow the paneer to cool down. You don’t want to freeze right away but you also don’t want to let it sit out too long.
- Once the slices have cooled, spread them out on a baking tray. Proceed to flash freeze in the freezer for two hours.
- Remove the paneer from the freezer and put the slices into a ziplock bag. Remove as much air as you can from the bag before sealing it.
- Label the bag with the freezing date and place it in the freezer.
It is important to allow the paneer to cool down before freezing. Freezing while hot will affect the texture so it is an important step.
Freezing uncooked paneer
If you don’t have time to cook the paneer first or you just don’t want to, then follow these steps.
It is important to portion the paneer to make it easy to use while frozen. It could be bite-sized cubes or slices.
- Place the portions on a baking tray and put them in the freezer for three hours. They need to be frozen at least on the outside before bagging.
- Remove the paneer from the freezer and place the portions in a ziplock bag. Remove any excess air and seal.
- Label with the freezing date and put it in the freezer.
Tip: flash freezing the paneer prevents the cubes or slices from sticking together. This would make it convenient for later use.
Paneer will last for up to six months in the freezer. Although, it is at its best quality in the first three months so this is the best time to use it. After six months, the texture and taste will start to deteriorate.
How to freeze paneer curry
If you have some curry or want to make some, you can also freeze it. It is also straightforward, simply:
Allow the curry cool to room temperature before freezing. Putting hot food directly in the freezer will affect the internal temperature of the freezer. This could potentially affect other things in the freezer.
- Get some containers and portion out the paneer curry.
- Doing this will make it easier to take only what you need instead of defrosting everything.
- Make sure to leave some space at the top, do not overfill.
- Cover the containers with their lids. If they aren’t airtight then cover them in some cling film.
- Label the containers with the freezing date and the content as well and place them in the freezer.
Remember to allow the curry to cool before freezing. Doing otherwise will mean that your freezer has to work extra hard to keep up. Let it sit at room temperature for at least thirty minutes.
How to thaw paneer
To retain the original texture of the paneer, you do not want to rush the thawing process. The slower, the better so allow it to defrost overnight in the fridge. If you don’t have that much time then you could try using the microwave to hasten the process.
Using the microwave can be tricky so you might want to opt for using some cold water instead. Put the paneer in a bowl of lukewarm water and allow it to thaw slowly. Once it’s fully thawed, proceed to cook with it.
Can you refreeze the paneer?
Paneer has a delicate texture and the taste could be severely affected if it is repeatedly frozen and thawed. You could also risk the growth of food-borne bacteria due to the constant temperature changes. So it certainly is not advisable to refreeze.
To avoid this, it is best to portion the paneer by slicing it into cubes and flash freezing first. This way you can use just what you need at any point in time.
How to make paneer
If you’re looking to make paneer yourself, rather than getting store-bought to freeze, this recipe will help. Although citric acid is commercially used to make paneer, you can use yogurt, lemon juice, or vinegar. Either option imparts some flavor to the paneer, so add whichever option you would prefer.
Here are the ingredients you would need to make paneer at home:
- 1 ½ liter of full-fat milk (6 cups)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons vinegar (substitute with lemon juice or ¼ cup yogurt)
Preparing the paneer:
- Pour milk into a heavy bottom pot & bring it to a gentle boil on medium heat.
- Keep stirring occasionally to ensure the milk doesn’t get scorched at the bottom.
- Meanwhile, place a colander over a large bowl to collect the whey.
- Spread cheesecloth over the colander.
How to make paneer
- When the milk comes to a boil, turn off the stove and pour 2 tablespoons of vinegar (or your other option).
- Stir it well for 1 to 2 mins until the entire milk curdles completely. When done correctly, the whey will not be milky but clear.
- If you see the milk doesn’t curdle fully, then add 1 tbsp vinegar and turn on the stove. Boil the milk on medium heat until the whole pot of milk curdles.
- Gently pour the entire paneer along with whey into the colander.
- Pour some cold water to stop the paneer from cooking further.
- Rinse it under running water to remove the smell & taste of the vinegar.
How to set paneer
- Wring the cheesecloth making a round shape of the paneer.
- Squeeze any excess whey or water.
- Make a knot and hang the paneer for 30 mins so the excess whey drains.
- Remove the knot and twist the edges of the cloth.
- Place the cheesecloth along with the paneer on a flat colander or a wooden board.
- Press down the cloth & place a heavy object on it for the paneer to set.
- After 3 to 4 hours, remove the cloth and cut the paneer into cubes.
While freezing can affect the flavor and texture of any food, it is not the case with paneer. The taste is very subtle and that makes it great for freezing as it’d be hard to notice a difference. There might be a slight change in the texture but this isn’t bad as some prefer it spongier.
It is also easy to thaw and convenient to use in curries, sauces, and even snacks. The whole process will help you make the most of your paneer.