I will be making this again this weekend…can almost taste it!
Eid is almost here, and I asked my mother-in-law what I should make. She had two words: chicken biryani.
Of course. I don’t even know why I asked.
Quick biryani lesson: the dish came by way of Persia (thanks Wikipedia) and is basically a rice dish where the rice is partially cooked, then layered with the other ingredients to steam the rest of the way (as opposed to cooking everything together as in a pulao). There are countless variations, which on one hand means there is room for innovation and creativity but on the other hand means everyone says everyone else is doing it wrong.
Pukka Paki’s My Tamarind Kitchen’s Green Masala Chicken Biryani is my favorite recipe that I’ve tried, because it is fresh and bright thanks to the handfuls of fresh herbs, and the whole garam masalas lightly spice the dish without weighing it down.
I’ve made it several times and have made just a few small adjustments – first, the masala is awesome as is, but it doesn’t hurt to throw in a couple extra Thai chilies. Second, this makes a LOT of curry – which is normally a good thing because you don’t want to be stingy on the curry, but where she lists 2.5 cups of rice I have gradually upped this to 3.5, and 4 would probably be ok. Last, before baking she says to stick lemon wedges here and there, but I forgo this because the first time I made it, it was overpoweringly lemony. I guess I could just stick less/thinner wedges, but I err on the side of caution and just serve with lemon wedges for a fresh spritz before eating.
A few helpful tips and musings:
- The list of ingredients and steps is dauntingly long, but if you break it down into components its seems more manageable (Onions + yogurt, chicken + spices, tomatoes + green masala, mix mix finish and layer with rice).
- I don’t have a good heavy-bottomed pot, but have found a nonstick wok is fantastic – you can crank up the heat and not worry too much about it sticking, so it works well for the onion and curry components.
- Once you get your onions started, you will have plenty of time to prep your other ingredients (I’m usually a “furiously multitask” type, not a “serenely mise” type, but I can be the latter in this situation because I am doing something productive on the side).
- You may be scandalized by the amount of oil/ghee used. Just breathe into a bag for a minute or perhaps take a long walk or soothing bubble bath and then get on with it.
- Lots of Pakistani recipes give you the instruction to “cook until the oil rises to the top” – including this recipe, several times. What does that even mean? I used to stare wistfully into my pot, wondering if I’d know the moment it happened. Now I realize that this is not that ambiguous. If you don’t see it, keep cooking. You’ll know.
- I rarely have saffron on hand but I always have safflowers (from the Arabic market. Just as yellow, way less expensive), so I use these instead. You are going for several colors running through the rice, and this will achieve the pretty yellow part of that. The flavor is different, but as this is not a delicately-spiced bouillabaisse I don’t think it matters much. Some people actually use food coloring (bleh no thanks).
- Lots of recipes have you finish the dish on the stove, but I like the oven versions such as this because you don’t have to worry about stuff burning to the bottom – plus although she has you put it in a serving dish, I think that’s unnecessary because the baking dish presentation is lovely.
Green Masala Chicken Biryani
Recipe from My Tamarind Kitchen
For the onion yogurt mixture
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1/2 cup ghee
- 4-6 medium red onions, finely sliced
- 2 cups yogurt
Heat oil and ghee in a wok or heavy-bottomed pot and deep-fry onions until very brown (this will take awhile so in the meantime you can prep the rest of the ingredients). Stir occasionally and be careful not to burn. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Whip yogurt, then add onions and mix.
For the half done rice
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 4 green cardamom pods (bruised)
- 3 1/2 cups basmati rice
Rinse rice thoroughly and soak for 30 minutes before cooking. Boil a large pot of lightly salted water with the cinnamon and green cardamom pods. Add rice, rapidly boil until al dente (approximately 4 minutes). Drain and set aside.
For the green masala
- 2 inch piece of ginger
- 4-5 cloves garlic
- 1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1 cup mint, chopped
- 2 1/2 cups cilantro, chopped
- 3-4 Thai chilies (a couple extra if you like more spice)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder
Grind all to a paste.
For the biryani
- 1/2 cup oil (divided)
- 5 tbsp ghee (divided)
- 1 medium whole skinless chicken cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces by butcher
- Whole garam masala: 10 cloves, 1 stick cinnamon, 6 green cardamom pods (bruised), 15 peppercorns, 2 star anise
- 3-4 medium chopped tomatoes
- green masala (above)
- yogurt mixture (above)
- half done rice (above)
- 2 pinches of safflower or saffron (crumbled and soaked in hot milk for 15 minutes minimum to release color/fragrance)
- 1 tbsp rosewater
- lemon wedges, coriander leaves, yogurt or cucumber raita for serving
For the curry, heat 1/2 cup oil and 2 tbsp ghee in a large saucepan or wok. Brown chicken and remove. Add another 1/2 cup oil and 2 tbsp ghee, along with the whole garam masala, and heat until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes and a good sprinkle of salt, and cook, stirring, until the oil rises to the top. Add the green masala, cook until the oil rises to the top, then add the browned chicken and the onion-yogurt mix, cook until the oil rises to the top.
Heat the oven to 320° F. In a large baking dish, spread the curry on the bottom and layer the half cooked rice on the top. Sprinkle the safflower milk, a tbsp of ghee, and the rosewater over the top. Tightly cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes to an hour (this has always taken me an hour) until the rice is perfectly cooked through.
To serve, stir the rice and curry gently to mix, being careful not to break the rice. Serve with lemon wedges, chopped cilantro, and yogurt or cucumber raita.
It was a full month after my mother-in-law came before I made it for her because I was so nervous, but when I finally made this for her she ate plateful after plateful, and all but licked plate.
Flour and Spice and Chocolate and Chilis, two gorgeous cooking blogs I’ve been perusing lately for more recipes to try, are hosting a virtual Eid party, so of course I want to play :) Here’s my contribution to the potluck, looking forward to seeing what the other participates are cooking up!