Chicken Biryani – The Best

Serves 6

Happy Canada Day!  What better way to celebrate Canada’s diversity than with an amazing dish that many Canadians have embraced as their own:  chicken biryani.

Chicken biryani is one of the most recognized dishes from India and it has a long history that’s as complex as its flavour.  Originally the biryani was brought to India by the Moguls and was dish enjoyed primarily by the royal court.  Even though it started off as a mild dish it soon became imbued with the addition of Indian spices, which sparked the evolution of many regional variants of biryani.

Its complex flavours and aromas have inspired entire books and many restaurants are dedicated solely to serving an array of biryanis.  Often, people look at the long list of ingredients that accompanies any authentic chicken biryani dish and are either intimidated away or turn away because they don’t have a fully stocked Indian pantry.  White a good biryani requires quality ingredients, time and a careful observance of the instructions it doesn’t have to be intimidating or frustrating.  What to remember is that many of the ingredients are repetitive as they’re listed separately by process and when looked at together on a shopping list it’s not that many.  Many ingredients can also be substituted and I will list acceptable substitution options right next to the ingredients to make it easier and less expensive.  However, there are certain ingredients that are a must such as a good quality biryani masala or garam masala (freshly ground preferably or at least ground with in last couple of months), whole spices, ghee, coriander and basmati rice.  These are what give chicken biryani its distinctive flavour, aroma and taste.  The ingredients are broken down into separate procedures to make it easy to follow.  The pictorial guide is divided by time frame as well as procedures so you can follow it along in chronological order.  Let’s get started.

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Chicken Biryani – Recipe

Ingredients

For the Marinade

  • 10 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 ½” piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 -2 green chilies, roughly chopped (substitute red chilies or ½ tsp. ground dry red chilies)
  • 1 Tbsp. ground dry red chilies (substitute 1 tsp. of a spicier ground chili pepper)
  • 1 Tbsp. ground coriander
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • 1 Tbsp. biryani masala (see below or substitute with good quality garam masala)
  • ½ lime, juiced (substitute equivalent amount of lemon)
  • 4 Tbsp. plain yogurt, heaped (any type works)
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 6 – 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cleaned, fat trimmed, cut in half and patted dry (can use chicken breast of a combination of chicken breast and chicken thigh, but keep the pieces fairly large)

For the Biryani masala (makes 5 Tbsp.)

  • Grind together : 1 cinnamon stick, 1 Tbsp. coriander seeds, ½ tsp. fennel seeds, 10 cardamom pods, 6 cloves, 10 pepper corns, Small piece of lichen (optional), 1 casing of mace (optional), ½ nutmeg (optional)

For the Fried Onions

  • 1 Tbsp. oil
  • 2 medium onions, sliced thin
  • Salt, to taste

For the Chicken Tikka Curry

  • ½ the fried onions
  • ½ the marinade puree
  • ¼ cup milk (any type works)
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste, heaped (substitute ½ cup tomato puree, but will take longer to cook)
  • Chicken tikka pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. coriander, thick stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. mint leaves, stems discarded and roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tsp. ground dry red chilies (optional)
  • ½ tsp. ground coriander (optional)
  • Salt, to taste

For the Rice

  • 3 cups Basmati rice, washed and soaked in water for 1 hour
  • 1 small stick cinnamon
  • 6 cardamom pods, cracked opened
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 Tbsp. oil (or margarine)
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. salt
  • 10 cups water

For Assembling (divide each in three)

  • 1/2 the fried onions
  • ½ cup coriander, thick stems removed and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup mint leaves, stems discarded and roughly chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. ghee
  • Few strands saffron in 3 Tbsp. milk, warmed in the microwave for a few seconds
  • Few Drops red food colour (optional)
  • Cooked rice
  • Chicken tikka curry (divide in two)

Instructions

  1. Puree all ingredients in the marinade section (except the salt and chicken) in a blender or food processor until completely smooth.
  2. In a large, nonporous dish add the chicken and salt and toss until chicken is well coated.
  3. Add half the puree to the chicken and mix well until all the chicken pieces are well coated in the marinade.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  4. Cover the rest of the marinade and refrigerate until ready to cook biryani.
  5. When chicken is marinated, wash and soak the Basmati rice for one hour.  At this point, also take the marinated chicken and the reserved puree out of the fridge and leave it to come to room temperature.
  6. Set oven on the ‘broil’ setting.  This could be anywhere from 500 – 550 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the oven.  Arrange the chicken pieces on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and broil until chicken is almost cooked and starts to brown, about 15 minutes.
  7. Turn off oven, remove and let cool while you start cooking the rice and curry.
  8. Heat oil in a heavy-bottom, non-stick pan over medium-high heat, add thinly sliced onions and salt and fry until golden brown.  Remove half and drain on a paper towel and set aside.
  9. At the same time, add all ingredients in the rice section (except the rice) in a large pot, cover and bring to a boil.
  10. Once the water comes to a boil (should be about the same time you finish cooking the onions) taste the water to make sure it’s seasoned properly and then add in the rice.  Bring temperature to medium and cook rice until 75% done, about 8 – 10 minutes.  Drain and set rice aside.
  11. While the rice is cooking make the curry.  Bring the pan with the remaining onions to medium-low heat and add the reserved puree and milk and mix together.
  12. Once heated through add the tomato paste, mix well and bring to a simmer.
  13. Add the chicken pieces, coriander, mint leaves, water and continue to simmer until curry starts to thicken and chicken is cooked through.
  14. Taste test for seasoning and spices; I add more ground dry red chilies, ground coriander and salt to taste.  Continue to simmer until most of the moisture is evaporated, oil is released from the chicken and you are left with a nice thick sauce, 5 minutes.  Turn stove off and set aside.
  15. To assemble and cook biryani, set a heavy-bottom pot on top of flat crepe pan or tawa and place over low heat.  This will prevent bottom layer from burning.
  16. Add a third of the rice into the pot and spread out evenly.  Sprinkle with a third of coriander, mint leaves, saffron milk, ghee and food colouring (if using).  Add half the chicken tikka curry on top and spread out evenly.  This is layer one.  Repeat this process twice more (once more for the chicken) until all ingredients are layered.
  17. Cover this pot tightly with a double layer of aluminum foil (use oven gloves if the pot is hot) and place a tight fitting lid or flat plate with anything heavy to weigh it down on top.  This will prevent the steam from escaping.
  18. Cook for 10 minutes or until rice is completely cooked through.  Carefully remove the aluminum foil to let the steam escape, test rice for doneness and gently mix so some of the gravy from the chicken tikka curry coats the rice.  You should have three to four different colours of rice at this point: yellow (from the saffron milk), reddish orange (from the chicken tikka curry), white (from the uncoated rice) and small areas of red (from the food colouring – if using).

For the Marinade and Biryani masala

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  1. Puree all ingredients in the marinade section (except the salt and chicken) in a blender or food processor until completely smooth.
  2. In a large, nonporous dish add the chicken and salt and toss until chicken is well coated.
  3. Add half the puree to the chicken and mix well until all the chicken pieces are well coated in the marinade.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  4. Cover the rest of the marinade and refrigerate until ready to cook biryani.

Prep – Soak Rice and Broil Chicken

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  1. When chicken is marinated, wash and soak the Basmati rice for one hour.  At this point, also take the marinated chicken and the reserved puree out of the fridge and leave it to come to room temperature.
  2. Set oven on the ‘broil’ setting.  This could be anywhere from 500 – 550 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the oven.  Arrange the chicken pieces on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and broil until chicken is almost cooked and starts to brown, about 15 minutes.
  3. Turn off oven, remove and let cool while you start cooking the rice and curry.

Fry Onions and Boil Water

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  1. Heat oil in a heavy-bottom, non-stick pan over medium-high heat, add thinly sliced onions and salt and fry until golden brown.  Remove half and drain on a paper towel and set aside.
  2. At the same time, add all ingredients in the rice section (except the rice) in a large pot, cover and bring to a boil.
  3. Once the water comes to a boil (should be about the same time you finish cooking the onions) taste the water to make sure it’s seasoned properly and then add in the rice.  Bring temperature to medium and cook rice until 75% done, about 8 – 10 minutes.  Drain and set rice aside.

For the Chicken Tikka Curry

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  1. While the rice is cooking make the curry.  Bring the pan with the remaining onions to medium-low heat and add the reserved puree and milk and mix together.
  2. Once heated through add the tomato paste, mix well and bring to a simmer.
  3. Add the chicken pieces and water.

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  1. Add coriander, mint leaves, water and continue to simmer until curry starts to thicken and chicken is cooked through.
  2. Taste test for seasoning and spices; I add more ground dry red chilies, ground coriander and salt to taste.  Continue to simmer until most of the moisture is evaporated, oil is released from the chicken and you are left with a nice thick sauce, 5 minutes.  Turn stove off and set aside.

For Assembling

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  1. To assemble and cook biryani, set a heavy-bottom pot on top of flat crepe pan or tawa and place over low heat.  This will prevent bottom layer from burning.
  2. Add a third of the rice into the pot and spread out evenly.  Sprinkle with a third of coriander, mint leaves, saffron milk, ghee and food colouring (if using).  Add half the chicken tikka curry on top and spread out evenly.  This is layer one.  Repeat this process twice more (once more for the chicken) until all ingredients are layered.
  3. Cover this pot tightly with a double layer of aluminum foil (use oven gloves if the pot is hot) and place a tight fitting lid or flat plate with anything heavy to weigh it down on top.  This will prevent the steam from escaping.
  4. Cook for 10 minutes or until rice is completely cooked through.  Carefully remove the aluminum foil to let the steam escape, test rice for doneness and gently mix so some of the gravy from the chicken tikka curry coats the rice.  You should have three to four different colours of rice at this point: yellow (from the saffron milk), reddish orange (from the chicken tikka curry), white (from the uncoated rice) and small areas of red (from the food colouring – if using).

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To serve, carefully remove chicken biryani to a large serving dish.  You can sprinkle with coriander and/or mint leaves to garnish and serve with a simple yogurt raita (recipe follows) and mango lassi.  Although the biryani is not very spicy, the raita and lassi will help cleanse the palate so you can enjoy every bite of the chicken biryani.  As soon as you remove the aluminum foil to release the steam you’ll smell the wonderfully tempting aromas of the chicken biryani.  The coriander, mint, biryani masala, whole spices, the chicken tikka and saffron will each compete to greet your nostrils.  This is definitely a dish you first enjoy with your sense of smell.  Then the flavours just explode in your mouth as soon as you take a bite.  A good chicken biryani should be a feast for the senses and by following this recipe and the pictorial guide you can make a perfect chicken biryani every time.

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Yogurt Raita (combine)

  • 1 cup yogurt, 2 Tbsp. coriander (roughly chopped), 2 Tbsp. mint leaves (roughly chopped), Salt to taste, ½ lime (juiced).
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