Sunday, 8 January 2017

Lamb biryani

Very much for sharing, lamb biryani is a regal dish, apparently invented by Mughal emperors. It is a complex balance of flavours and textures - rich marinated lamb is layered among sweet, crispy, caramelised onions and cardamom and clove infused rice. This isn't a dish to opt in for if you want to knock up something quick and easy for guests. Be prepared to prepare for this one. You really will get a more flavoursome dish with wonderful textures if you rinse, and rinse, and rinse and soak the rice, keep frying those onions within a second of being completely burnt, marinate the lamb for hours, and perhaps get your spices in order before the full performance. 

Biryani is often the centrepiece of a wider assembly of dishes and I served mine with a rich black dahl and some yoghurt. This recipe makes for a very full-flavoured dish and if you would rather go for a more modest meat, such as chicken, try out this recipe.

Lamb biryani 

Ingredients (serves four generously):

for the lamb:
400g of diced lamb (i used neck fillet)
2 tbsp of natural yoghurt
1 heaped tsp of each of these: ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric and paprika
1 tsp of black peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp of salt
2 fresh green finger chillies, chopped
juice of half a lemon

for the rice:
220g white basmati rice
a generous knob of butter
600ml of vegetable or lamb stock
10 cardamom pods 
8 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 stick of cinnamon
a pinch of saffron strands, soaked in some warm milk

other ingredients:
rapeseed oil for frying the onions and lamb
3 large onions, sliced length-ways  (i.e. don't finely chop them)
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
about 5cm piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
generous handful of fresh mint and coriander, finely chopped
handful of pomegranate seeds


1. In a large bowl, mix the spices, pepper, salt, chillies and lemon juice with the natural yoghurt.
2. Add the lamb chunks to the bowl and cover in the marinade mixture, cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours. If you can be really prepared, you should do this the night before you intend to make the biryani. 
3. Wash the rice in at least three changes of cold water then leave to soak in a bowl of cold water. 
4. Pour some of the oil in a large pan and on a medium to high heat start frying the onions with a little salt sprinkled on them. 
5. At the same time, take the lamb out of the fridge so it starts getting down to room temperature before you fry it later on. 
6. Back to the onions, it will probably look like a large portion of them for one meal to start off with, but you need to fry them down so your portion practically halves and you have very dark brown, sweet and crispy onions. You will need to be patient with this but the taste will be worthwhile. Stir the onions in about 5-minute intervals to brown the onions and ensure they don't burn. This should take about 30 minutes. Once cooked, set aside. 
6. In the same pan, add some more oil and fry the lamb along with the chopped garlic and ginger. 
7. Once the lamb is cooked through (around 10-15 minutes) set aside.
8. Now, onto the rice. Prepare the 600ml of stock (I just used an instant vegetable stock cube).
9. In a large pan that definitely has a well-fitted lid to go with it, lightly fry the butter on a medium heat and add the saffron strands, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves and cinnamon. Fry until the aromas of the spices start to appear (a couple of minutes).  
10. Drain the rice through a sieve and give it one more rinse with cold water before adding to the pan and stirring so that the grains are covered in the buttery spice mixture.
11. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Once it starts boiling, turn the heat down to a very gentle simmer, cover the pan with some foil then put the pan lid on top as tight as you can. Cook for 10 minutes. Do not lift the lid from the pan. 
12. After 10 minutes, turn the heat off and let the rice steam for 5 minutes. 
13. Lift the lid and start to fold in the lamb and two thirds of the onions. You should find that you can separate each grain of rice and you have quite a dry dish. I find if there is a bit of moisture to it when intially lifting the lid, this usually disappears after 10 minutes or so when the steam from the pan has left the rice. If you do feel that the dish isn't as dry as it should be, once it is in an oven proof serving dish and place in a 200 degree over for around 10 minutes and this should dry it out. 
14. Once the onions and lamb have been layered throughout the rice, place in a serving dish and garnish with the remaining onions, chopped coriander and mint and pomegranate seeds. 
Serve with your chosen side dishes. 

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