I love Indian food and recently I’ve been working on Indian cooking quite a bit. There is a different understanding of flavors than I’m used to, so it’s a fun challenge. When I decided to make biryani, I started with a recipe from MySpicyKitchen and made changes to suit my taste and to make it easier to prepare. After 5 or 6 rounds of revisions, I think this recipe is ready to share. It is delicious and I think it’s almost as good as what I can get at local restaurants in our town, which is pretty much an exclave of South India thanks to our high concentration of IT workers. I’ve tested it out on some very accommodating Indian coworkers who say it’s very good.
For people from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, biryani — and lamb, mutton, or chicken biryani in particular — is quintessential party food. It’s not especially healthy or easy to make, but it’s absolutely delicious. The super-traditional method of making biryani (dum biryani) involves layering ingredients in a pot, sealing the pot lid with a flour and water dough, and cooking for exactly the right amount of time over exactly the right heat. When I tried to make it this way, I ruined a pan and our house smelled like burning chicken for several days. So, in my subsequent attempts I made a lot of compromises and worked out a way to make biryani by keeping the rice and chicken separate and mixing the fully-cooked ingredients when ready to serve. It’s a compromise, but I think it’s worth it.
You will need a few things that aren’t common in American grocery stores. You will need ghee, since the smoke point of butter is too low to work in this recipe. You will need a few spices that you probably don’t already have, most importantly black cumin or kala jeera. There are 2 spices sold as “black cumin” in English: one is “kala jeera”, also called “shah jeera”, which literally means “black cumin” and looks just like skinny black cumin seeds, and the other is nigella seeds, which are small almost-round black seeds with a completely different flavor. You need to make sure you get kala jeera and not nigella. You’ll need ginger garlic paste, which you can make yourself at great expense of labor, or just buy at the Indian grocery that you’re visiting anyway to buy kala jeera. While you’re there, you can pick up a dozen or so small green chilies, or you can use jalapeños which work just as well in my opinion.
Anyway, here’s the recipe. It’s in multiple parts, which I’ll explain in a minute.
- 1 – 2 tsp cayenne pepper powder
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 10 black peppercorns
- 10 cloves
- 1/2 tsp cardamom seeds, removed from pods
- 1/2 tsp black cumin (kala jeera) seed
- 1″ Ceylon cinnamon stick or 1/2 tsp ground cassia cinnamon (don’t put cassia cinnamon in your grinder)
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless dark meat chicken (e.g. thighs), or 2 pounds bone-in chicken
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 1 1/2 tbsp ginger garlic paste (or 3/4 tbsp grated ginger + 3/4 tbsp. grated garlic)
- 12 small green Indian chilies, split in half and sliced, or 2 large jalapenos, split in half and sliced with midribs removed
- 1/2 cup mint leaves, chopped
- 1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- Juice of 1 lime or 1/2 lemon
- Biryani Masala, as above
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 cups (or 4 180ml rice cooker cups) basmati rice
- 1/4 tsp saffron threads soaked in 1/4 cup water, or 1/4 cup water plus 3 drops yellow food dye
- 6 cardamom pods
- 3 cloves
- 3 allspice berries
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cassia cinnamon stick
- 1/2 tsp cumin seed
- 1/2 tsp black cumin (kala jeera) seed
- 1/2 tsp ginger garlic paste (or 1/4 tsp grated ginger + 1/4 tsp grated garlic)
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 large onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup plain yogurt
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp soybean oil
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 tbsp minced onion, or 1 tsp dried minced onion
- 1 tsp ginger garlic paste (or 1/2 tsp grated ginger + 1/2 tsp grated garlic)
- 1 plum tomato, diced (optional)
Grind all the ingredients for the biryani masala in a spice grinder. (The amount of cayenne pepper is up to you, but keep in mind this is normally a spicy dish. If you have lame store-brand cayenne pepper powder like I just bought, you will probably want to use closer to 2 teaspoons, but if you tend to think things are unbearably spicy, you probably want to err on the side of caution.) Chop the raw chicken into 1-1/2 inch chunks. If you’re using bone-in chicken, you can leave pieces on the bone or not according to your preference. Mix all marinade ingredients including biryani masala. Combine the chicken chunks with the marinade and mix well. Marinate in a sealed container or plastic bag for 4 to 24 hours. I like to use a gallon size Ziploc bag because it’s easy.
While the chicken is marinating, you can make the dahi chutney. Roast the cumin seed and mustard seed in a dry pan over medium-high heat until the cumin becomes fragrant (1-3 minutes). Beat the yogurt and gradually add oil and water, stirring. Add all remaining ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.
About 90 minutes before you’re ready to eat, add the saffron threads (if using) to hot, not boiling, water. Then wash the rice several times in clean water, finally leaving the rice in water to soak for 30 minutes. Drain the soaking water. Combine all of the rice ingredients in a pot or rice cooker, sprinkling saffron water between layers of dry rice. Add sufficient water and cook the rice according to package directions or rice cooker directions.
About 20 minutes before the rice is done, slice the onion and fry it in the mixture of ghee and soybean oil, in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, until the strands are dark golden brown and caramelized. Remove the fried onion to a separate container but keep the oil in the pan. Pour the marinated chicken into the hot pan. Fry the chicken at medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, turn the chicken pieces over, then cook at medium-low heat, covered, until done (6-10 minutes).
When the rice is done, fold the cooked chicken and fried onions into the cooked rice. Top with dahi chutney to serve.