While most often associated with northern Indian cuisine, Biryani is a dish with Persian origins found in various forms from Iraq to Thailand. As you might imagine, there is a huge variety of different preparations stemming from the vast swath of land it calls home. Common elements include some type of meat (goat, lamb or chicken), rice, and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander and mint.
I’m not going to say that my recipe originates anywhere specific, but it relies heavily on Indian flavours. Though it takes a bit of prep work, it’s not complicated and there’s a lot off leeway to improvise with your own blend of spices. The chicken gets married to the rice between layers of caramelized onions. This symbiotic relationship keeps the chicken moist while infusing the rice with some serious flavour.
It’s fantastic with a cucumber raita and a squeeze of lemon, cooling off the heat while adding a fresh zing that brightens all the spices in the dish. The ingredient list below might look intimidating at first glance, but there’s nothing all that exotic on the list and it all comes together in about an hour + cooking time.
4-5 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger powder (or 1 tsp grated ginger)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp oil
3 qts water
1 tsp salt
10 green cardamom pods crushed
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
2 C basmati rice
2 medium onions sliced thin
2 serrano chiles minced (remove the seeds and membranes if you want it less spicy)
1 clove garlic minced
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 C + 3 Tbs water the rice was boiled in
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs cilantro minced
2 Tbs mint minced
1/2 tsp saffron (optional)
Wash the chicken, pat dry and trim any excess fat or skin off the chicken. Mash together the garlic, salt, ginger, garam masala, black pepper and oil to make a paste. Coat all the pieces of chicken rubbing into all the crevices.
In a tall deep pot, add the water, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin and bay leaf, cover then bring to a simmer on medium low heat.
Meanwhile, heat a large heavy bottomed frying pan over medium high heat until hot. Add a small splash of oil coating the bottom of the pan then add the chicken skin side down. Fry undisturbed until the chicken is nice and brown on that side (about 3 minutes). Flip the chicken then brown on the other side.
Transfer the chicken to a plate, turn down the heat to medium low then add the onions to the pan. Fry the onions, scrapping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan until the onions are fully caramelized (about 20 minutes). Add the chiles, garlic, garam masala, ginger, and salt and continue to cook until the garlic and spices are fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
Turn the heat on the water up and bring to a boil. Add the rice, cover, then turn the heat back down to medium low. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain the rice reserving 1 C + 3 Tbs of liquid.
To assemble the biryani, put half the rice back into the tall pot. Sprinkle half the saffron over the rice followed by half the cilantro and mint. Spread half the onion mixture over this then lay the chicken pieces on top. Cover with the rest of the onions then the rest of the rice. Top with the rest of the saffron, cilantro and mint. Pour the reserved liquid from the rice into the pan you fried the onions in scraping up any residual browned bits of onion then dump this on top of the rice.
Cover then cook the biryani over medium low heat for 20-30 minutes or until most of the water has evaporated and the chicken is cooked.
Serve with a wedge of lemon and some cucumber raita (recipe below).
for cucumber raita
1 C cucumber peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 C plain yogurt
1 Tbs cilantro minced
1 Tbs mint minced
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients then refrigerate until ready to serve.