Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Chicken Biryani (Flavorful Rice & Chicken dish)

Chicken Biryani - There's something I'm positive most gori (white) women realize when they have married into a Pakistani family, and that is that the pride of a good woman cook is her biryani.  You go over to any family's as a guest and you can almost guarantee that biryani will be on the menu.  In fact, I believe that many Pakistanis use it as a sign of whether you can cook or not.  The idea being that if you can make biryani, you can make anything.  And actually, given the time commitment and attention required, that's a fair assessment.  Whenever I tell Pakistanis that I like to cook Pakistani food, the eyebrows raise higher than I can describe when I mention that I make biryani.

I've been married for six years to my husband and only in the last year have I really put the effort into learning how to make biryani well.  I was so fortunate that I had a neighbor from Hyderabad that showed me, step-by-step, how to make it from scratch.  I think I wrote something in the recipe down incorrectly, so I have occasionally used Sindhi Biryani mix (with modifications) instead.  Really though, even if you use a mix, most people will still be impressed.  The reason being that the secret to making good biryani is in how you cook the rice.  Everything else is pretty simple.  My husband's khala (aunt) also showed me a few things that she likes to do with her biryani that I have added to this recipe.

Are you ready to make one of the most famous dishes of India and Pakistan???  Give yourself at least 2-3 hours.  I generally do this while my son naps...  Let's do this!

You're going to need some good tools and great ingredients.  For a list or both, see the bottom of my blog.

To start, you'll need about 2 1/2 medium, yellow onions.  You can slice them by hand if you can do so finely, or you can use my new favorite tool, the mandoline.  The benefit of the mandoline is that it will slice your onions evenly.  Evenly sliced onions will also cook evenly, preventing burning.

This is about how thin they should look and it should make approximately 4 cups of sliced onions.  I highly recommend wearing contact lenses or you will be bawling and running out of the kitchen by now from the onion burn...

Next, heat up about 1 1/2 cups of vegetable or canola oil in a large pot. 

It should be really hot.  High heat!

Add your onions!  Be ready to protect yourself dropping them in the hot oil (it may spatter)!

There should be enough oil to cover your onions, if there isn't, add 1/2 cup more.  Fry these bad boys until they are golden brown.

Meanwhile, you should wash your chicken.  You'll need to ask your halal butcher for 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces with no skin.  My meat guy is really amazing in Jersey City ("New Ma Sha Allah Grocery") and he cleans the chicken so well that all I basically have to do is rinse it.

We don't usually eat the neck piece :(.  But you see how there is some fat on it (the white part)?  If your meat guy isn't as good as my meat guy, then you should take off all the loose fat like this off your chicken meat and wash it.  Sometimes the wings have skin on them that you have to take off as well.  It's really better for someone to show you how to do this, so maybe just hope for the best that your meat guy is good at cleaning it.  And someday, if I ever get meat that isn't as well cleaned, maybe I'll make a YouTube video on how to clean it.

You'll probably also have time to skin and cut up 3-4 small white potatoes into quarters.

But don't lose sight of your frying onions!!!  See the above picture??  They are going to darken quick from this stage!  You'll be taking them out and putting them on a plate with a paper towel, so be ready.

I took one more quick photo before I had to remove them.  If they look like the above picture, they're ready to take out.  Don't let them burn!

Even though I tried really hard, I couldn't get some of the onions out in time before burning them (see the top left of the image).  Don't use burned ones.  Use the nice golden brown ones.

Next you're going to turn off the stove and put your cleaned chicken in the hot oil (watch out for spatters again!).  Add half of your fried onions on top.

Next we're going to use 500g of whole milk yogurt (desi natural dahi if you can).  It's about 2 cups or almost half of a 900g container.

Put it in a small bowl with about 3 Tablespoons of water and whip it up with a spoon.  Add it to your pot.

Next, bruise 3 cardamom pods with a flat knife.  Smoosh them until the crack.  My husband doesn't really like cardamom, so I don't empty it out, but you could if you like it.

Next add the following:  4 Tablespoons Ginger & Garlic paste, 1 teaspoon tumeric powder, 1 Tablespoon of red chili powder, 1 & 1/4 teaspoon sah zeera (black cumin, found in an Indian/Pakistani store), 3 whole cloves, 3 1" pieces of cinnamon bark (don't use cinnamon sticks, they are too strong), 1 1/4 Tablespoon of salt, 2 whole green chilis, 10 whole mint leaves, and 2 pinches of saffron (optional).  Crush the saffron in your fingers while adding to enhance the flavor.


If you want to skip the above steps (including the cardamom), this is where you would just use Sindhi Biryani mix by Shan.  Or any other kind of mix if you like.  This will save you a lot of trouble if you don't keep the ingredients I mentioned on hand.  Keep everything else the same (onions, yogurt, potatoes).  Don't follow the box directions, they're not that great in my opinion.

Mix it all together and cook on medium/high heat, covered for approximately 30-35 minutes.  I have a power burner, so mine was done in 25 minutes...  Basically, when the meat is tender and oil is separate from the sauce.

Meanwhile, soak 5 cups of basmati rice in cold water for approximately 30 minutes (doesn't matter how much water, just enough to cover it).

You can also use this time to make raita (yogurt condiment) that is often served with biryani.  It's fairly simple.  Finely slice 1/2 onion and put in a medium sized bowl.  Add 1 teaspoon ginger & garlic paste, 2 small green chilis (chopped), 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 5 finely chopped mint leaves, and 1 1/2 cup of yogurt.  Mix well and add about 1/4 cup of water.  It should fall of the spoon easily.  Some people prefer it thicker and use less water (only 2 Tablespoons), but I prefer it to drip over the biryani so I usually add more water.

By now, your chicken masala (sauce) might be finished if it looks like the above picture.  The first picture could use a bit more time, the second picture is finished.  If so, turn off the stove and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of garam masala on top (unless you used the Shan mix).

Here comes the rice part.  You'll want one of these INSANELY HUGE pots called a deygh. You can get them from most Indian/Pakistani grocers.  If you simply don't have one of these or can't handle this kind of business, separate your chicken masala in half and freeze it.  Follow this guide, but make only 2 1/2 cups rice in your regular pot and add the other half of chicken masala for this recipe.

Just look at it.  It's huge.

Alright, back to business.  Fill it a little more than half full of water.

If you're not using a Shan mix, add 2 whole green chilis, 10-12 whole mint leaves, 2 whole cloves, 2 1" cinnamon bark pieces, 2 bruised cardamom, and 1 pinch of saffron.  Turn on high heat and cover it with the lid.

Now, as a gori (white) bivi (wife), I have to say that prior to biryani, I would have never even dreamed of using such a huge pot for anything.  I mean, it takes up half of the stove!  And if you believe it, this is the smallest deygh you can buy (I think)!  So anyway, you're trying to achieve a "rolling boil" here.  When steam starts shooting out of the pot like the above picture, you can bet you have a rolling boil.

Drain your soaked rice and pour it in the pot.  Add 3 1/2 Tablespoons of salt.  *Pro tip:  You can dip your bowl in the boiling water quickly to rinse it of all the rice out.  Cover and let cook.

After 4-7 minutes (mine cooked really fast, so I prefer the 4 minute rule), take out some rice with a spoon.  It should be al dente or partially cooked.  You'll know it is partially cooked because it will still break in your fingers, but it won't roll in your fingers like cooked rice.  It will be somewhat see-through, with little white dots almost.   Can you tell from the above picture?

Drain half of your rice into a colander, leaving a small amount of water behind.

The remainder should have a little bit of water, but not too much (the above picture shows a tiny bit at the bottom).  It should be moist still.

Evenly spread the rice over the bottom of the pot.

Take your chicken masala (sauce) and spread evenly over rice.

Top with half of your remaining fried onions, crushing them in your hands while you sprinkle them over the masala.  Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of garam masala over it all.

Thinly slice a tomato and lay the slices evenly across the top.  At this point, you could also add a cup of freshly chopped cilantro or coriander (or mint if you used the Sindhi mix instead).  I didn't do it this time, but if you're curious about what that looks like, here are a couple pictures from another time I made it:

Anyway, back to the original post! :)

Add the other half of your rice from the colander, evenly spreading over the top.

Adding food coloring is a popular component of making biryani and I recommend the above powder.  It's really more of an orange than a yellow.

Sprinkle food coloring using the base of a spoon to make a circle in the center of your rice.

Using your clean fingers, pick up the dyed areas and spread them loosely with the other grains of rice.


It will likely dye your hand a little, but should come off in a day or so.

Sprinkle the remaining half of fried onions, crushing them as before.

Cook on low heat until steam comes out of the top (can take up to 30 minutes!).

This is what it will look like before mixing.

Gently take a large, flat spatula and mix from the bottom up.  Pull the bottom to the top, folding the layers into each other.

Voila!  Chicken.  Biryani.  Serve with raita.