Best Chicken Biryani
Chicken Biryani is a savory chicken and rice dish that includes layers of chicken, rice, and aromatics that are steamed together. The bottom layer of rice absorbs all the chicken juices as it cooks, giving it a tender texture and rich flavor, while the top layer of rice turns out white and fluffy. Buried in the Biryani, you’ll find whole cuts of succulent chicken bursting with flavor from the potent array of spices, herbs, and aromatics it’s marinated in.
Whether you’re talking Arroz con Pollo, Hainanese Chicken Rice, or Oyako Donburi, chicken and rice is a classic pairing that has permeated culinary culture around the world. It makes sense that earlier in human history, this staple grain would be combined with a domesticated source of protein. Still, the fact that this combination has endured as a popular favorite today, speaks to its unassailable deliciousness.
For my Chicken Biryani recipe, I’ve simplified the preparation a bit by marinating the chicken in a spicy mixture of garam masala, garlic, ginger, chili peppers, coriander leaves, and garlic. When fried, the spices and aromatics on the exterior of the chicken caramelize into an insanely flavorful crust. I like to make the fried onions separately, as it allows you to fully caramelize them into a sweet umami-packed layer that contrasts the spicy, savory chicken. For the rice, a quick par-boil with whole spices like cardamom, bay leaves, and cumin infuses some flavor, while ensuring the rice is tender enough steam after the Biryani is assembled.
Table of contents
Why this recipe works
- By parboiling the rice, this Chicken Biryani can be steamed instead of boiled. This renders the chicken tender and juicy.
- Marinating the chicken and then browning it ensures it is seasoned to the core while creating new layers of flavor thanks to Maillard browning.
- Properly caramelizing the fried onions adds loads of umami, and it also lends a subtle sweetness that’s the perfect contrast to the savory and spicy chicken.
Ingredients for Chicken Biryani
- Chicken – For the most flavor, I recommend using a bone-in skin-on piece of chicken such as thighs or drumsticks. Breast meat will work in a pinch, but it won’t be as flavorful, and it will get dry due to the longer cooking time of this dish.
- Aromatics – The chicken is marinated with ginger garlic paste along with herbs and spices. As the chicken steams, it releases all these flavors into the rice.
- Herbs – I like to use fresh herbs like cilantro (a.k.a. coriander leaves), and fresh mint leaves in my marinade for the chicken. These also make for a nice garnish to sprinkle on top of the Chicken Biryani, so be sure to chop up a little extra.
- Spices – I use ground spices like garam masala and ground cinnamon for the chicken marinade. If you can find it, Biryani masala works well too. For the rice, I include whole spices such as green cardamom, cumin, and bay leaves. I also sometimes like to add some cloves or star anise here. The yellow color in the rice comes from saffron, but if you can’t find it, turmeric makes a suitable substitute.
- Onions – Along with the chicken and rice, the third component of Biryani is fried onions, and I like to have a lot of them.
- Ghee – Ghee is butter with the milk proteins and water removed, making it clear. This is why it’s also called “clarified butter.” It gives you the flavor of butter without worrying about the milk solids burning.
- Chili Peppers – I usually use fresh green chilies in my marinade for the chicken to add some heat to this dish, but red chili powder will work as well.
- Rice – Biryani should always be made with long-grain rice. I recommend using basmati.
Other Indian Recipes
Although widely associated with Indian cuisine, Chicken Biryani is a dish that has spread across a wide swath of South Asia, reaching as far west as Iraq and as far east as Indonesia. The vast geographical area Biryani calls home has resulted in a wide variety of preparations and ingredients; however, it is typically prepared by layering seasoned chicken with rice and aromatics and steaming them together.
The name Biryani is thought to be derived from the Persian word birinj (برنج) which means “rice”.
I like to serve my Chicken Biryani with cooling raita made with yogurt, mint, cilantro, and a pinch of salt, but this is also good with a variety of different chutneys. I know it’s a lot of carbs, but I also love serving biryani with a basket of fresh pillowy naan, my friend Bee over at Rasa Malaysia has a fantastic Fail-Proof Naan recipe that I’m a fan of.
Pulao (a.k.a. Pilaf), is also a rice dish that can be found in similar regions of the world as Biryani. While there’s some debate as to the difference between Biryani and Pulao, the latter tends to have less meat and veggies relative to the rice, which means it’s usually served as a side rather than an entree. The second big difference is that Biryani is generally layered and steamed, which creates a wonderful variation in flavor, texture, and color when mixed together.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 10 grams garlic (grated)
- 10 grams ginger (grated)
- 1 serrano chili peppers (to taste, minced)
- 5 grams mint (finely chopped)
- 10 grams cilantro (finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 900 grams bone-in skin-on chicken thighs (or drumsticks)
- 6 cups water
- 2 ½ teaspoons salt
- 5 pods green cardamom (smashed)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 360 grams basmati rice (~2 cups)
- 2 tablespoon ghee
- 2 medium onions (sliced thin)
- 1 cup reserved boiling liquid (from rice)
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads
- cilantro (for garnish)
- To marinate the chicken for the biryani, combine the vegetable oil, garlic, ginger, chili peppers, mint, cilantro, garam masala, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl and stir together. Add the chicken pieces and toss together making sure the chicken is thoroughly coated in the marinade. Allow the chicken to marinate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
- In a pot wide enough to hold the chicken in a single layer, add the ghee and onions and saute the onions until they are well caramelized (15-20 minutes). Transfer the caramelized onions to a bowl and set aside.
- While the onions caramelize, prepare the rice by washing in a strainer under cold running water until the water runs clear.
- To par-boil the rice, add the water, salt, cardamom, cumin and bay leaf to a pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice and boil for 7 minutes. Drain the rice, reserving 1 cup of the liquid.
- In the pot you caramelized the onions in, add the chicken in a single layer, skin-side down. Fry until golden brown on one side (about 5 minutes). Flip the chicken over and fry the other side until golden brown. Transfer the chicken back to the bowl you marinated it in.
- To assemble the biryani, add the saffron to the rice and toss to distribute evenly. Add half the rice mixture to the bottom of the pot you browned the chicken in.
- Top the rice with the chicken in a single layer.
- Top the chicken with an even layer of caramelized onions.
- Finish putting together the Biryani by adding the rest of the rice in an even layer. Add 1 cup of reserved liquid from boiling the rice. Cover the pot with a lid and put the pot on the stove over medium heat and set the timer for 20 minutes. When you can see steam escaping from under the lid, turn down the heat to low and continue cooking until the timer goes off and then turn off the heat.
- Without opening the lid, set the timer for another 10 minutes to steam the biryani.
- Mix the Chicken Biryani together and then transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.