How many paths lead to Biryani?
I attended an Indian wedding in London recently and one of my friends and I got into a discussion about the different kind of biryanis. My friend is Mauritian Indian and her family’s recipe for making chicken biryani has potatoes in it. This was interesting to me as we don’t use potatoes in a biryani in India (or at least in the North Indian and the Hyderabadi Biryani).
Indian Culture Across Continents
Moreover, she told me that the Mauritian Indians don’t think of themselves as Indians themselves. However, they have retained numerous elements of the Indian culture. For example, they still cook Indian food, women wear saris, the traditional Indian dress, and celebrate the Indian festivals. This is an amazing testimony to the resilience of the Indian culture.
The recipe for making chicken biryani has numerous origins but it really took off in the kitchens of the Mughal courts. In the 17th and 18th century, Mughal kingdom was its zenith and India accounted for about quarter of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) i.e. economic activity. Art, culture, architecture, language, poetry and cuisine made a massive leap in India during this time. The Rajputana, Persian, Hindustani and central Asian influences came together to bring about the magical Tajmahal, the poetic language of Urdu and the delicate Mughlai cuisine.
This recipe for making biryani results in a light, decadent, fragrant, spicy dish. Every bite melts in the mouth. And it’s not as daunting as it looks to cook. I hope you will give it a try as it’s absolutely worth the effort.
- 600 gram chicken breasts cut in 1-2 cms cubes
- 300 gram basmati rice as other rice varieties don’t have the required fragrance and delicacy to make biryani
- 1.5 cup plain yogurt
- 2 medium size onions 2-3 inch in diameter, thin slices, length wise
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 1 tbsp lime juice fresh is better
- 2-3 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 inch ginger peeled and finely chopped
- 2 handfuls of fresh cilantro coriander leaves finely choppped
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 3-4 small green cardamom
- 1-2 bay dry leaves
- 4-5 cloves
- 1 black cardamom
- 10 strands of saffron
- 1/4 cup milk
- 3-4 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) to fry onions and grease the pan
- salt to taste
Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions. Fry the onions alternating between low and are medium high heat until the onions are dark brown but not burned (see pictures)
Remove the ghee from onions and set aside.
Mix together chicken, yogurt, lime juice, garlic, ginger,salt, chili powder, more than half of cilantro, half of fried onions, leftover ghee from frying the onions. You can keep the chicken overnight in the fridge but must marinate for 2-3 hours before you start cooking.
When you are ready to cook biryani, set a large pan on low heat and cook the chicken until the chicken is tender about 20-25 minutes. Set it aside.
Soak the saffron in milk and set aside.
Par boil the rice with salt, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon and set aside
Take a deep and wide pan (which can be covered) and has a thick bottom. Grease the bottom of the pan with ghee then add thin layers to the pan in this order: rice, chicken, rice, fried onions, rice, chicken, rice.
Pour the saffron milk on top and garnish with cilantro.
Set the pan on a skillet as it prevents the pan from coming in direct contact with the heat and burning the rice at the bottom.
Put the skillet along with the pan on low heat. Cover the pan and cook for 15- 20 minutes, even little longer if you like crispy rice at the bottom.
Serve with lime slices.