Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chicken Biryani

My friend Mumtaz makes the best biryani you would ever dream of eating. Seriously, I get these desperate cravings for her biryani. She does it right, everything is made from scratch and it takes her hours. It tastes perfect, it looks perfect, it just is the perfect biryani. It is so good that she even ran a catering business once centered around the biryani!
I make it well, attempting to be as good as her. Don’t think I am there as yet, but until she reveals her grandmothers secret recipe and tips, you have to make do with mine!
Yesterday I came home starving and wanting biryani. I had about 4 cups of left over cooked basmati rice in my refrigerator. Although, I always recommend using half-cooked basmati rice which I cook 2–3 cups of basmati rice with 1 star anise, 1 bay leaf, 2 green cardamons and 1 stick cinnamon.
Biryani is usually made with lamb or chicken and the bones are always on. I had boneless chicken breasts in the my fridge which works as a good substitute. The flavor is definitely more enhanced with the bones on.
Roasting and freshly grinding the spices always renders a stronger and fresher flavor and is strongly advocated for any Indian or Pakistani cooking.
Serves 4–5
60 minutes
  1. 1.Step 1, Make the spice mixture: In a spice or coffee grinder, grind together 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp red chili, 1 tbsp roasted fenugreek seeds, 1 tbsp roasted dill seeds, 2 tsp turmeric, 2 sticks broken cinnamon, 1 tbsp roasted whole black pepper, 2 tbsp roasted cumin seeds, 1/2 tbsp roasted nigella or onion seeds, 2 brown cardamons, 4 green cardamons and 5 cloves. The cardamons and cinnamon sticks will break up a little and not grind down to a fine powder. 
  2. 2.Step 2, Marinate: Cut 2 boneless chicken breasts into cubes and marinate with the spice mixture, 2 tbsp plain yogurt, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 6 minced garlic clovesand 2-inches grated ginger.
  3. 3.Step 3, Create the base: In a large dutch-oven heat 2-tbsp vegetable oil. Fry 1 large onion, thinly sliced until slightly browned. Add 2 tomatoes, chopped finely. Season with salt and a pinch of turmeric and cook until the tomatoes are soft. Add the marinated chicken with all the marinate and cook until the excess water from the chicken has dried up, about 15–20 minutes. 
  4. 4.Step 5, Prep the rice: Whether using the half-cooked rice as directed above or left over rice, divide it into two and mix one half with 1 tsp saffron dissolved in 3 tbsp milk. 
  5. 5.Step 4, Layer: Remove the chicken into a separate bowl. Layer the rice and chicken, with the chicken at the bottom and top. This should create at least 5 layers. On top of each rice layer, add lemon slices, whole green chilies and a lot of cilantro.Cover the dutch-oven tightly and either keep it in an oven pre-heated to 350F (175C) or leave it on simmer on the stove top. 
Biryani is always with Raita as an accompaniment which is yogurt mixed with onions, cilantro, green chilies and tomatoes and seasoned with salt.

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