The best chicken biryani
- March 2015
- 1 kg skinless and boneless free-range chicken thighs, halved
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 green cardamom pods, bruised
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- Good grating whole nutmeg
- 2 star anise
- 3 tbsp tomato purée
- 1 tsp fine salt
For the marinade
- 500ml Greek yogurt (we like Total)
- 7 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder (available from larger supermarkets and specialist grocers, or use ½ tsp hot chilli powder)
- 35g fresh ginger, finely grated
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 2 large green chillies, roughly chopped
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- ¾ tsp ground turmeric
For the crispy onions
- 350ml vegetable oil
- 2 onions, finely sliced
- 2 tbsp plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
For the rice
- 650g basmati rice
- Pinch saffron threads
- 5 tbsp whole milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 50g ghee (available from the world food section of large supermarkets)
- Lemon wedges
- Toasted cashew nuts
- Handful each fresh mint leaves and fresh coriander sprigs
- Digital probe thermometer
- Combine all the marinade ingredients in a bowl, then stir in the chicken pieces. Leave to marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature or (preferably) up to 48 hours, covered, in the fridge – see make ahead. Cover the basmati rice in cold water and leave to soak for 1 hour.
- For the onions, pour the 350ml oil into a saucepan and heat to 160°C (test with a digital thermometer, or add a piece of onion – it should sizzle). Coat the onions lightly in the flour, then add them, in 4 batches, to the oil. When they’re golden (2-3 minutes) remove with a slotted spoon onto kitchen paper to dry, then set aside.
- When the chicken has marinated, heat 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan. Add the cloves, cinnamon, cardamom pods, bay leaves, cumin seeds, nutmeg and star anise, then gently toast for 2-3 minutes to release their aromas. Add the chicken and its marinade, cook gently for 5 minutes, then add the tomato purée and salt. Simmer gently for 25 minutes or until the chicken is just cooked.
- Keep the chicken and sauce warm over a low heat. If it begins to stick, add a splash of water but don’t make it too runny: the sauce should just coat the back of a spoon.
- To cook the rice, soak the saffron threads in the milk for 15 minutes. Drain the rice, put in a medium saucepan and add 1 litre boiling water and the salt. Cook the rice for 3 minutes, then drain and stir through half the ghee to coat the warm grains of rice.
- In a large flameproof casserole with a tight-fitting lid, melt the remaining ghee with 50ml water over a gentle heat, then assemble the biryani. Start with one third of the rice, a drizzle of the saffron milk and a sprinkle of the crispy onions. Top with half the chicken, then repeat, finishing with a final layer of rice and more onions on top.
- Put the lid on the casserole and turn up the heat to get the biryani steaming. Turn the heat to very low and cook for 20 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges, sprinkled with cashews and herbs.
To make lamb biryani, use diced lamb shoulder instead of chicken thighs. In step 3, simmer the lamb over a low heat for 2 hours or until tender, then continue with the recipe as it is.
Marinate the chicken pieces up to 48 hours in advance (step 1) in the fridge for a fuller flavour.
Biryanis of various kinds are made throughout India and in many other parts of Asia. Goat and mutton are the traditional meats, but chicken, fish or vegetables are used too. What distinguishes biryanis from other rice dishes (such as pilaus/pilafs) is that the rice and meat are layered, then steam-cooked together in a closed pot.
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