Monday, 12 October 2015

Chicken biryani

After several attempts, I may have finally perfected this dish. With it being such an historic dish, there are different definitions and theories behind its origin. Some believe it derives from the Persian word for rice, "birinj", or, "biryan", to mean to fry or roast. in terms of how it made it to India, some believe that it arrived in north India from Persia via Afghanistan, or through the mughals who came from Persia, or, even the woman who inspired the Taj Mahal. What all theorists will agree with though is that biryani is most often served for a special occasion, with many guests, reflecting its original purpose as a dish for royal and celebratory banquets. It is a dry dish, and the key is to be able to see and separate every grain of rice. That's why it's important to soak the rice as this helps to separate the rice and produce a less sticky version. the rice / water proportion is important too, so all of the water is absorbed by the rice, with no moisture left. It's also really worth frying the onions for a long time, on a low heat so that they go really brown, to the point they almost look burnt. This adds a rich, caramelised flavour to the dish and a deeper colour, especially if you can't get hold of saffron, which helps to add a deep orange shade to the rice. 

Just as there isn't one theory of the origin of this dish, there is not one method of cooking it either. Some recipes will add raw rice to the cooked chicken, adding water and cooking in one pot, some advise you partially cook the rice then bake it all in the oven, and some will cook the rice with some spices and layer in with the cooked meat - which is what I did. I can't say that I've tried the other methods and judge what's best but I like cooking the rice separately as I find this the best way to get my rice to water ratio spot on. 

This recipe uses chicken, but lamb or vegetables are common too. Given it's quite a dry dish, this is often the centrepiece of a meal that is accompanied by a daal and a cooling yoghurt / raita. I love the fragrance of this dish, with the cardamom, cloves, ginger, saffron amongst other things! Cook for friends, family ... and enjoy! 

Chicken biryani 
Ingredients (serves 4) 
oil (vegetable or rapeseed)
2 large white onions, sliced lengthways (don't chop finely!)
3 chicken breasts (or skinless thighs)chopped into pieces
2 tbsp of natural or greek yoghurt
juice of half a lemon
1 heaped tsp each of ground cumin, ground coriander and turmeric
1 tsp of salt, or more or less depending on taste
half tsp of chilli powder
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a knob of ginger, finely sliced
3 green indian finger chillies (or just two if you want it mild)
225g of white basmati rice
600ml of chicken stock (or vegetable)
2 bay leaves
some saffron strands, soaked in warm water
8 cardamom pods, crushed 
8 cloves 
a cinammon stick 
knob of butter
handful of cashew nuts
a handful of fresh coriander, chopped 
some foil, large enough to cover a pan


1. Put the rice into a large bowl and cover with cold water - set aside to soak.
2. Make a marinade from the yoghurt, ground spices, salt, lemon juice and chilli powder.
3. Cover the chicken in the marinade in a large bowl, cover and place in the fridge.
4. In a large frying pan, heat the oil and start frying the onions on a high heat with a bit of salt, stirring regularly so the onions don't catch - but you want the onions to go dark brown. once the onions start to visibly brown, turn the heat down to a medium heat and fry for around 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the onions go brown but don't burn.
Place the onions on a plate and set aside. 
5. In the same pan, add some more oil over a medium heat, then add the marinated chicken along with the ginger, garlic and chopped chilli 
6. The chicken should take around 15 minutes or so to cook, so while that's on a medium heat and you're turning the chicken pieces occasionally, you can start on the rice - if you don't feel confident multitasking - cook the chicken first and set aside.
7. Drain the rice thoroughly using a sieve. 
8. Get a large, pan and melt the butter.
9. Add the cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon and saffron and fry lightly for 2-3 minutes.
10. Boil some water and make 600ml of chicken stock. I just use a standard stock cube dissolved in a measuring jug.
11. Add the rice into the pan and stir until all of the rice is covered in the melted butter. 
12. Add the stock and bring to the boil The moment the mixture starts boiling, put the heat on low and cover the pan with some foil then put the lid on as tightly as you can. This will make sure the steam stays trapped in the pan and cooks the rice
cook the rice on the heat for 10 minutes - don't lift the lid to check if it's cooked. If your measurements are accurate you'll be fine and won't ruin it by letting the steam escape too early. 
after 10 mins, turn the heat off but leave the lid on and allow the steam to cook the rice for a further 5 minutes - then lift the lid. 
13. Separate the rice with a fork and you should have quite dry, firm rice with each grain being separated. 
14. I picked out the bay leaves and cinnamon stick, but like keeping in the cloves and cardamom to further infuse. 
15. Stir the cashew nuts into the rice
16. You can then just add the chicken by the large spoonful, gently stirring into the rice or layer a large serving dish, alternating between the chicken and rice
17. Sprinkle with the chopped coriander and more cashew nuts if you have any spare.

I like serving it in a large dish and letting everyone help themselves  

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