For someone who has not enjoyed a real, true Biryani,it is impossible to actually imagine how luxurious, fragrant and indulgent this dish actually is. Every grain of rice is light as a feather yet loaded in flavour. The colourful rice grains make the dish look aesthetically pleasing, but is not necessary if you don’t want food colouring in your rice.
Biryani’s are made in lots of different ways, but there are two distinctive methods that are broadly used. In the method that I am describing in this post, the chicken or meat (we prefer lamb or goat when we make the biryani), is marinated and then cooked on low heat with the rice. It is imperative to use meat that has the bone in for the Biryani, as it adds the flavour and richness that the rice require to carry the flavour to every morsel.
To make things a little simpler, for this recipe, I am using a ready made dried spice mix that is readily available at all ethnic grocery stores. I have no specific preference for any particular brand, as they are all equally good nowadays. However, the reliable brands for masala blends are MDH, National and Shaan.
Make a wet paste, using the following ingredients:-
Green chillies x 10
Coriander 1/2 bunch
Mint 1/2 bunch
Yogurt 1 cup
1/2 cup friend onions
Turmeric 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Lime Juice x 2 tbsp
Oil 1/2 cup
This paste is sufficient for around 2-3 lbs of chicken.
This wet paste works as a marinade for the chicken. Ideally, I would have marinated the chicken in a ziploc bag at this point and left it in the fridge overnight. Massage the marinade into the chicken well.
The layering of the Biryani for this type of Biryani is quite simple. Its just in the technique of getting things together on time and it works beautifully. However, it is imperative to have everything prepped and ready, as everything moves really fast once the rice is ready.
Try to use the best quality Basmati or Sello rice that you can find, as you don’t want them to mush up or break during the cooking process. Wash the rice well and rinse out the excess starch. Put a large pot of water to boil, just like you would for pasta. Add 1-2 large brown cardamoms, a couple of bay leaves and a couple of tablespoons of Black cumin in the water. As the water boils, it will start changing colour and I like to reduce the heat at this point and let the spices cook in the water so the water is a light brown in colour. This will all get absorbed into the rice grains.
Sprinkle a handful of salt into the water, followed by the rice. Cook the rice on medium high heat, uncovered until the grains are around 70% cooked. The best way to check this is by pressing a grain between your thumb and forefinger. If the rice breaks into pieces, it needs more time. If it lightly mashes but has a little bite to it, it is done.
The timing on this should be such that your pot of chicken should be ready for the rice at this point. You need to immediately scoop the rice out of the boiling water using a large flat slotted spoon and don’t worry about some of the water going in with the rice. You must move fast as you don’t want to overcook the rice and you don’t want to lose too much of the steam.
So for the meat, first take a cast iron dutch oven, and put this on low heat to start warming things up. Heat 3-4 tbsp of clarified butter in the base, and spread the chicken pieces evenly on top. Spread some of the dried spice mix on top of the meat and turn the pieces over to spread some more spice mix on the other side. Let the chicken heat on very low heat whilst you wait for the rice and then spread the rice immediately on top of the chicken.
Preheat the oven to 300F.
Once the rice is spread, sprinkle some rose water on water. Spread a layer of fried onions, some almonds, cashews or any other type of nuts that you would like to add. I like to add some green raisins at this point too. If you want to add colour, now is the time to sprinkle some at different places on the top, but not too much. A little bit of colour goes a long way. Generously sprinkle a large ladle of clarified butter on top. Unfortunately, yes, it is worth the calories.
I like to add some coriander leaves too, but that’s not necessary. Once everything is loaded, seal the lid with some wet flour paste.
I didn’t use a cast iron dutch oven here as I was in the middle of teaching a class and we used the pots and pans that we had. This flour paste ensures there is no escaping whatsoever for the steam and it cooks on low heat in its own juices.
I have never tried a slow cooker for this, but I can imagine that would work equally well to create the perfect biryani.
But, we haven’t finished yet!!
Now, we boil some eggs. Hard boiled for about 7-8 minutes.
Remove the shell and whilst they are cooling down, slice another onion. Heat some clarified butter in a pan and add the onions.
Make thin and long slits along the length of the eggs, and rub them in some of the biryani spice mix. Then add them to the onions and clarified butter in the pot.
These slits help the eggs absorb some more flavour and prevent them from bursting (just in case!). Let these cook until the onions are nice and brown and the eggs have a cooked spice layer on their skin. These will be our garnish for the Biryani.
Now, the biryani cooks in the oven for at least 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let it sit for another 20-30 minutes. Then, taking a flat spatula break off the dough surround and the trick now is to spread the rice on a flat platter using a big flat spoon without breaking the rice. Gentle movements and spreading the colour and flavour all over. The meat pieces are buried in between the rice layers, and this helps keep the flavours locked in too as well as work as a surprise as to who gets what piece of meat (if any!).
We served our biryani with some cucumber and tomato raita, and some freshly chopped onions for photo purposes only! There is so much flavour in this biryani, that it didn’t need anything else, and the yogurt was just the perfect accompaniment to cool everything down a little for those who find the spices a little strong.
THESE PHOTOS WERE TAKEN BY BERNICE HILL (Dish n’the kitchen) and other participants at the cooking class.