Learn how to make a restaurant style Chilli Paneer. An Indo-Chinese favourite of crispy cheese tossed in, spicy, salty, sweet and sour sauces.
One of the best dishes to ever exist, and a huge family favourite over here.
And if you’ve ever visited an Indian restaurant, I’d imagine you’re probably quite familiar with this dish already. But don’t worry if you haven’t.
This blogpost and recipe will introduce you to a dish that will honestly change your life.
It’s a vegetarian appetiser that’s super easy to make, but also full of flavour at the same time. It’s a certified crowd pleaser, I promise.
Chilli paneer is essentially crispy pieces of paneer (cheese) tossed in an array of flavourful sauces and aromatics. It’s often served alone as an appetiser, but can also be served with rice/noodles or naan.
This dish is always on our menu whenever we’re ordering a takeout from our favourite Indian restaurant. It’s a dish that varies so much between restaurants and often sets the standard for the rest of the menu.
My family will always point out wherever they’ve had a good chilli paneer – there’s something about chilli paneer that makes it so memorable.
For my recipe I’ve taken the flavours and textures from my favourite chilli paneer dishes and combined them into what I think is an incredible air-fried version of the classic.
I do air fry my chilli paneer, and it works incredibly well. Granted that deep frying or shallow frying does still have a slight upper hand texturally. I’ll be honest and say that this air fried version is very close.
What is paneer?
Paneer is an Indian cheese that’s made by curdling milk with some form of acid. The whey is then strained out and the curds are compressed to form a cohesive block.
But because the paneer isn’t seasoned, it’s pretty flavourless on its own. It also has quite a rubbery texture – though freshly made paneer is much softer and more creamy.
Most large supermarkets will stock paneer in the refrigerated section, however it can also be found in Indian supermarkets. You’ll normally find it sold in blocks, but if you really struggle then make your own.
There are some great recipes online and plenty of videos on Youtube.
Chilli Paneer tips:
- Have everything prepped and ready to go. This is known as mise en place – and this is essential as all the ingredients are added in quick succession to prevent overcooking
- Soak your paneer in boiling water for 20 minutes if it’s not fresh – this will soften it to mimic the fresh texture
- Deep fry/shallow fry for best results but air frying is also an excellent choice
- Use both the dark soy and light soy. This is because both add different elements to the dish. Dark soy provides a lot of colour and flavour, whilst light soy helps to season without overpowering any other sauces present
- Chaat masala is an Indian spice mix added to a lot of street food dishes and snacks. If you can’t find it, adding dried mango powder (amchoor), ground coriander, black pepper, and chilli powder can provide a similar flavour
What can I serve Chilli Paneer with?
Chilli Paneer is great served alone, you can grab your chopsticks or fork and just dig in. My family and I actually tend to eat it alone fairly often.
As it’s an appetiser you don’t have to pair with anything, but it is sometimes nice if you do. If I were to serve this Chilli Paneer along with something, it would usually be:
- Homemade Naan or Chilli Garlic Naan
- Steamed rice (I love the combination of Chilli Paneer and Jasmine rice)
- Roti (a wheat based Indian ‘flatbread’ served with most meals, also often referred to as chapati or rotli)
If you do decide to serve this Chilli Paneer with naan. I recommend brushing the naan with some garlic butter and topping the paneer with my Homemade Mint Sauce.
What you’ll need
The full recipe can be found at the end of the blogpost
- Chaat masala
- Cornflour – this is sold as corn starch in the US and corn flour in the UK
- Neutral flavoured oil – sunflower/rapeseed/vegetable etc
- Spring onions
- Peppers – I always like to use a mixture of green and red
- Dark soy sauce
- Light soy sauce
- Chilli sauce – I use my Szechuan Sauce in all of my Indo Chinese dishes, but you can use your favourite
- Ketchup – it works! It adds a little bit of sweetness and acidity
- Vinegar – adds a little more acidity, in turn creating a balanced sauce
- Honey – a hint of sweetness, once again for balance
- Cornflour slurry – this is a thickening agent comprised of cornflour(UK)/corn starch(US) mixed with water
How to make Chilli Paneer (photos)
Let’s start with air frying the paneer
1) Soak the paneer in boiling water, and leave covered for 20 minutes. The longer you leave it the softer it becomes
2) The paneer will turn lighter in colour and become softer
3) Drain the water and mix the paneer with chaat masala, salt, and cornflour (corn starch for US readers) until it’s evenly coated like 4)
5) Air fry the paneer until golden and crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside
6) You’ll be able to squeeze it easily, it’s a lovely texture
Now let’s make the rest of the Chilli Paneer
1) Sauté the garlic and spring onion whites briefly
2) Then add in the red and green peppers
3) Next, add in the crispy air fried tofu and continue to sauté
4) This will only need around 1 minute of sautéing
5) Then add in all the sauces and the cornflour slurry (the soy sauces, ketchup, chilli sauce, vinegar, honey)
6) Cook together until it forms a lightly saucy and perfectly glazed Chilli Paneer. It only takes around 1 minute
7) Finish with plenty of spring onion greens
How to make Chilli Paneer (video)
Can I make this Chilli Paneer vegan?
You can substitute the paneer for tofu. It’s not chilli paneer and it won’t have the same texture but it’s still delicious.
This is the same way I normally make my chilli tofu and it’s always a hit with my family.
Though recently ‘vegan paneer’ substitutes have now become available in supermarkets. I have not tried these and hence cannot comment on how they would taste/work within this recipe.
Also substitute the honey for any syrup of choice, e.g. agave or maple syrup.
If you are using tofu:
Use a firm/extra firm tofu (not silken) and press out any additional liquid. This is done by wrapping the tofu in a paper/kitchen towel with a medium-heavy weight on top.
This will firm up the tofu further and allow it to crisp more readily.
There is no need to soak the tofu in boiling water in the same way that I have suggested for paneer.
Things to try:
If you enjoyed this chilli paneer, try it as a filling for gua bao! It works brilliantly with the combination of the soft, steamed bun and the spicy paneer.
I’ve garnished mine with some pickled ginger and spring onions, but be as creative as you like!
- 500 g paneer cut into cubes
- 1 tbsp cornflour this is corn starch for US readers
- 0.5 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp chaat masala
- 1 tbsp oil of choice if air frying
- 1 tbsp oil of choice
- 2 medium peppers sliced, I used one red and one green
- 4 spring onions whites for cooking, greens for garnishing
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 inch piece of ginger minced
- 1-2 green chillies slit lengthways, omit if you prefer this to be more mild
- 1 tsp dark soy
- 2 tbsp light soy
- 2 tbsp ketchup
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar/lemon juice
- 1 tbsp chilli sauce of choice I use my homemade Szechuan Sauce
- 1/2 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp cornflour
- 3 tbsp water
- Start by soaking the paneer in boiling water, covered. Let it sit for at least 20 minutes, then drain. If the paneer still feels dry or hard, repeat once more
- After draining the paneer, toss with the chaat masala, salt, cornflour (corn starch for US readers) and oil until evenly coated
- Air fry the paneer for around 4-5 minutes at 200'C until golden all over but still soft when squeezed, tossing mid way. Alternatively deep fry or shallow fry if desired
- In a large frying pan or wok, sauté your spring onion whites, garlic, ginger and chillies (if using) in oil under a medium-high heat for roughly 1 minute, keep stirring to prevent any burning
- Add in the peppers and the paneer, sauté for a further minute
- Mix together the cornflour and water in a separate bowl until dissolved and keep aside
- Now to your paneer mixture, add in your soy sauces, vinegar, ketchup, chilli sauce, honey, and cornflour slurry. Mix together for 30 seconds – 1 minute until the paneer is lightly saucy and evenly glazed
- Garnish with the spring onion greens. Best served immediately