I think it’s about time you lot had something good to eat again. I thought we’d have an exotic epicurean experience today (foreign nosh – for my erudite reader). Well it is exotic, unless you happen to live in or near India, Indonesia, Iran. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve had Biryanis from take-away joints and in restaurants – and despite my shameful bias – this recipe beats anything I’ve tasted from a commercial enterprise to date.
Although some historians attribute the origin if the Biryani to the Persians, we know the word is derived from the Farsi word ‘Birian’. As the dish made its circuitous way to India, during the 1800s and 1900s, it passed through several regions, giving rise to such dishes as the Lucknow, Calcutta, Hyderabadi and Arcot Biryanis, to name but a few.
The Biryani also travelled to South Africa (you’ll be pleased to know) and the South African Indian Women’s Cultural Group describe the Biryani as a royal dish and one to be served on auspicious occasions.
As Chief Kitchen Wallah in our household, I summarily declared today an exceedingly auspicious occasion – for no other reason than because we were making a Biryani. The recipe I am about to bestow upon you today has been passed down from… from bookshelf to counter top by actual human hand. But now seriously, this recipe is a fusion of a Lucknow Murgi Biryani and a Khima Biryani which yours truly has evolved to suit his and his family’s taste buds. This will safely serve 4 guests; 6 if you’re also serving Naan bread.
- 1kg Free range skinless chicken breasts – cut up into 1cm cubes. You can also mince it if you want to.
- 3 cups Fresh Petit Pois peas
- 2 medium onions, grated
- ¾ teaspoon ground Turmeric. If you are fortunate enough to obtain fresh turmeric – use 1 teaspoon.
- 150ml Plain yoghurt. Avoid flavoured yoghurts as this messes with the flavour.
- 1 teaspoon dry ground red chillies – or 2 tsp chilli paste
- 2 whole green chillies (Serrano) – pips removed and finely chopped
- 4 whole Cloves (or ¾ teaspoon ground cloves)
- 4 Cardamom pods
- 2 large Cinnamon sticks (or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
- ½ teaspoon Coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground Cumin
- ¼ teaspoon Saffron
- ¼ cup pureed/blended cherry tomatoes
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (or ¾ teaspoon ground ginger)
- 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
- ½ cup sunflower oil
- ½ cup Ghee
- 1 teaspoon whole Cumin seeds
- 8 small potatoes, sliced 5mm thick (leave skins on for minerals)
- 6 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 4 whole cloves
- 8 black peppercorns
- 1 x 4cm stick of Cinnamon (approximately the size of your thumb)
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, peeled (do not chop or crush)
- 1 x 4cm piece of ginger root, peeled (do not chop or crush)
- 300 g Basmati rice – washed
- 650ml hot water
- Salt to taste (approximately 1 teaspoon)
- Cut 3 or 4 slices from another onion
- 4 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar
- Spread the Balsamic vinegar over the slices of onion
Preparing the rice
- Heat the oil in a pot, over a high heat
- Add the Cinnamon, Peppercorns and cloves and fry until they change colour
- Turn stove down to medium heat and add garlic and ginger
- As soon as garlic & ginger start changing colour, add the rice
- Fry the rice until it also starts changing colour – then add the water and salt.
- Cook (approximately 11 to 13 minutes) until just before it is fluffy (but not undercooked).
- Remove from heat and discard cinnamon, cloves, ginger and garlic.
- Keep the rice warm
Preparing the chicken
- Braise the chicken cubes with the ginger, garlic, turmeric, salt, chilli paste, sliced chillies, coriander and ground cumin.
- When the chicken has yielded up most of its water content (the bottom of the pot is virtually dry), remove the pot from the heat and allow the mixture to cool.
- Stir in the tomato puree, yoghurt, lemon juice, whole cumin seeds, saffron, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon stick(s).
- Heat the oil/ghee mixture in a pan and fry the grated onion until it turns a golden brown colour. Drain it through a sieve to remove excess oil (which should go back into the pan) and add to the chicken.
- Fry the potato slices in the ghee/oil until they start to turn crispy
- Remove from pan and allow to drain on kitchen paper (paper towels)
- Fry the slices of onion in a little oil until they separate into rings and change colour from the caramelisation.
- Preheat the oven to 180C
- In a large casserole dish, drizzle and spread some ghee over the bottom and on the insides of the dish.
- Spread a thin layer of rice over the bottom of the dish
- Add the chicken and evenly spread it over the rice
- Next, place the potato slices generously on top of the chicken taking care to take the slices right to the sides of the dish
- Add the peas to make the next layer
- Finally, add the rice to make the last generous layer.
- Arrange the onion rings (garnish) attractively on top of the rice
- Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of ghee and about 3 tablespoons of water over the rice
- Cover the dish with the casserole lid (or tin foil if a lid is not available)
- Place in the oven and allow to steam for about 25 to 30 minutes
Even before this dish is completely cooked, it announces itself to the family and waiting guests with a heady, spicy aroma. Once cooked, and with the appropriate fanfare, bring it to the table. Make sure you are adequately armed, so as to restrain any guests who are unable to contain themselves in their desperation to get at the meal.
It is quite acceptable to serve Naan bread with this Biryani, and your writer has received favourable commentary by offering both garlic and plain Naan breads. For Western guests (and those who take wine with their meals), a crisp Chardonnay may prove popular.