Monday, January 30, 2012

Chicken Biryani

I first heard about biryani when my book club read the book A Mighty Heart, The Brave Life and Death of My Husband, Daniel Pearl by Marianne Pearl. This book is a heart wrenching account of Marianne Pearl’s travail when her husband was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists while he was uncovering a story in Pakistan. Biryani was something that this author mentioned in her book numerous times and I had the impression that this was the Pakistani food that gave her comfort and strength in her time of need.   

My friend, Dawn, hosted this book club meeting at her house and served biryani in commemoration of the book. Ever since, I have been meaning to make my own, but because the recipe in my book seemed so daunting, I never got the chance to do it, until Saturday evening.

Warning: When making this dish, make sure you have at least 2 hours before dinner time and it would be ideal to have a dedicated accomplice in the kitchen. It requires a pretty elaborate preparation. DFJ was kindly requested to make this chicken biryani with the promise of me being his assistant. Great teamwork!

The dish is very fragrant and looks so bright and beautiful. Although this recipe gives a robust taste, I somehow feel like it needs something to give it an extra umph. Next time, I will make the following revisions: 1.) use ground coriander instead of whole; 2.) not disembody the star anise; 3.) add an extra dash of cayenne and some smoked paprika to the spice mixture; 4.) season the onions with salt, pepper, and garam masala; and 5.) season the chicken with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and an extra pinch of salt. Our friend suggested adding some saffron too.
I highly recommend that you try making this dish. You can follow my adapted version of the original recipe and make your own additions as you cook, until the flavors suit your taste.       

Chicken and Basmati Rice (Makes 8 servings)
(adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Asian Cooking)

spice mixture
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
4 star anise
3 bay leaves

onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeno paste
2 large yellow onions
4 tbsp ghee
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons peeled and chopped fresh ginger
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs
½ cup plain whole-milk yogurt
3 tbsp lemon juice
garnish... don't forget the raisins
1 ½ cups basmati rice

¼ cup cashews
2 hard-boiled eggs
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup raisins

Put the spice mixture together in a small bowl: cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cayenne, star anise, and bay leaves. Stir well and set aside.

Slice the onions thin and dice ¼ of one onion. Separate the diced onions.

Warm half of the ghee in a large pan over medium heat. Cook the onions until caramelized, about 20 minutes.  

While the onions are cooking, combine the diced onion, garlic, ginger, and chile in a food processor and grind until it turns into a thick paste.  

Cut the chicken into ½ inch pieces. Season the chicken with salt and cook in a large, ovenproof pot, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the onion pan.  

Heat the rest of the ghee in a large, ovenproof pot, over medium heat. Sauté the onion-garlic paste for about a minute. Add the onions and chicken. Then stir in the yogurt, lemon juice, and ¼ cup water. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 4 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Add the rice to the simmering mixture in the pot and stir well. Pour in 2 cups water, turn the heat up to medium, and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn the heat off and cover the pan with aluminum foil, then put it in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, hard boil the eggs. Fill a small sauce pan 2/3 full of water and add the eggs. Cook over medium heat, covered, until the water starts boiling. Remove the cover and bring the heat down to medium low and remove the lid. Let it boil for another minute and turn the heat off.

Lay the cashews in small but deep baking dish and toast in the oven (still at 350 degrees F) for about 10 minutes. Stir cashews after being in the oven for 5 minutes.

Fluff the rice with a fork. Serve on a platter with a garnish of egg wedges, toasted cashews, cilantro, and raisins.

Serve immediately.

The first night we had this for dinner, the raisins were forgotten. We remembered the raisins the day after and added frozen sweet peas as well. DFJ’s friend recommended eating it with some raita, mango chutney, or onion chutney. As luck would have it, we happened to have a little bit of mango chutney from Trader Joe’s left and the combination was superb.

Happy biryani cooking!


  1. Hi Margarita,
    This chicken biryani looks awesome!! I just had dinner, but I am hungry all over again, thanks to your post! Delicious.

    1. Hi Asmita,
      Thank you for the comment! I am so new to blogging and want you to know that your nice words made my day. This biryani was good, but I really recommend spicing it up more to your preference.


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