How to make lamb biryani

Learn how to achieve succulent meat, fluffy rice and the perfect blend of spice with our step-by-step guide to making lamb biryani.

How to make lamb biryani

You will need: 

  • 400g basmati rice
  • 1 large potato, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 thin green chilli, finely chopped, plus 2-3 sliced green chillies
  • Bunch fresh coriander, chopped
  • ½ large bunch fresh mint, chopped
  • 400g full-fat natural yogurt, soured with the juice of ½ lemon, plus extra
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 450g mutton or lamb leg or shoulder, cut into chunks
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 3cm cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 2 black cardamom pods (see Know-how; or use extra green)
  • 2 tbsp sunflower or corn oil
  • 1½ tbsp ghee, plus 1 tbsp melted ghee (or use melted butter)
  • 4 green cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp black cumin seeds (or use cumin seeds)
  • 1 small mace blade
  • 3 onions, roughly sliced
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp crushed garlic
  • 4 large tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 5 unripe plums, halved and stoned
  • 4 tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds
  • 2 large pinches saffron, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
  • ½ lemon, thinly sliced

You’ll also need… 

  • Shallow casserole with a tightly fitting lid

This recipe serves 6-8. Hands-on time 2½-3 hours, plus soaking.


Make the curry sauce (steps 4-6) a day ahead (keep covered in the fridge), then cook the rice and finish the recipe. Black cardamom and black cumin are available from Asian grocers or online at and Amazon.

Sumayya’s tips for success

  • Ensure the chillies you use are hot; I add the seeds with the chopped chilli – it’s the only heat that goes into the recipe.
  • Try different spices. I like dark spices such as star anise and black cardamom with this, but you could use green cardamom and cumin instead.
  • Ensure the plums are unripe and sour. They soften as they cook and add a wonderful sharp-sweetness. If you can find dried sour plums in an Asian grocer’s shop, use them instead.
  • To make your own soured yogurt (a crucial part of the dish): mix 400g full-fat natural yogurt with the juice of half a lemon or 3 tbsp soured cream.
  • Parboiling the rice before adding to the dish is my way of shortening the cooking time.
  • Cook the biryani on the hob over a heat diffuser (also known as a simmer ring) if you have one, as it helps the dish cook slowly so the flavours infuse without the rice overcooking.
  • Patience is key. At each stage of cooking, ensure any moisture is cooked out before moving on.
  • You can cook the curry part of the recipe (steps 4-6) a day in advance.

1. Wash the rice 3 times in cold water, then put in a mixing bowl and cover with more water. Soak for at least 30 minutes. Cook the potato in a pan of boiling water for 8 minutes (until barely tender), drain and set aside.

2. Mix the chopped chilli, most of the fresh herbs, the soured yogurt, turmeric and a pinch of salt in a large bowl with the meat, then marinate for 30 minutes or so.

3. Meanwhile, boil a large pan of water and add ½ tsp salt, 1 bay leaf, half a cinnamon stick, 1 star anise and 1 black cardamom pod. Drain the rice and add to the pan. Cook for 5-6 minutes, then drain and leave in the colander (discard the flavourings).

4. Heat the oil and 1½ tbsp ghee over a medium heat in a shallow lidded casserole. Once hot, add the rest of the whole dried spices and cook for 30-40 seconds until aromatic. Add the onions and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring, until softened. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes.

5. Add the tomatoes to the pan and cook for 12-15 minutes, stirring, to evaporate most of their juices.

6. Stir in the mutton/lamb mix and cook for 20-25 minutes until the sauce is thick and the oil rises to the top. Turn the heat to low, cover with the lid and cook for 25-30 minutes or until the meat is tender.

7. Uncover and lay the plum halves and potatoes evenly over the curry, then scatter over the pomegranate seeds. Cook, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover evenly with the rice. Sprinkle with the saffron and its water and the melted ghee. Push the green chilli and lemon slices into the rice.

8. Cover tightly with foil, then wrap your lid in a clean tea towel (tie the ends around the handle, away from the flame) and fit it snugly on top of the dish so it’s sealed.

9. Put the biryani on the lowest heat (see tips) and cook for 15 minutes. To check, open the seal – the rice should have fluffed up and cooked through. If not, re-cover and cook for a further 5 minutes. When ready to serve, carefully stir the rice to mix the layers, sprinkle with the remaining herbs and serve with extra yogurt.

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