What is biryani?
Biryani (बिरयानी) is a typical dish from the Indian subcontinent. It consists of basmati rice, spices and meats, eggs or vegetables. Unlike other popular Indian dishes, rice is directly part of the dish, it is not used as a side dish.
It is also on the menu of most restaurants in the Indian diaspora around the world. In India, this dish, although present everywhere, is especially prepared in families in cities where a strong Muslim community resides, such as Calcutta, Bombay, Ambur, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Thalassery. The city of Dindigul has its own typically Hindu version from the Naidus communities of Amdhra Pradesh.
Usually beef, chicken, goat or lamb is used. In the south where the populations are more generally vegetarian, the meat is often replaced by peas, beans, cauliflower or pumpkin depending on the season. In the past, biryani was prepared in a sealed pot, and steamed. This process, called dum pukht, allows to keep a very tender cooking of meats and to exhale the scent of spices.
Biryani is often accompanied by small condiments or garnishes such as chutney, raita or a gravy. It is sometimes served with eggplant curry, eggs or raw vegetables.
What is the origin of biryani?
The word biryani comes from the Persian beryā, which literally means “fried” or “grilled”. Muslim travelers and merchants spread this dish across India. It is still considered to be of Mughal origin today because it was once highly regarded at the table of Muslim emperors. Mughal Indian cuisine is considered one of the most refined in India and highly valued by the dominant castes.
How to make biryani
The preparation of biryani often begins with a marinade of meat. In India, this is often done in yogurt and spices. The yogurt helps tenderize the meat and make the various spices adhere to it.
In the case of a chicken biryani, the meat is pricked for the aromas to better penetrate, such as turmeric, chili, garlic, ginger and lemon juice. Separately, a mixture of spices based on cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaf, is prepared. This spice mixture is pan roasted with a little oil. These mixtures contribute to the subtlety and specificity of Indian cuisine and these regions.
Adding an onion brings moisture when sweating and keeps the spices from burning. Cooking the onion produces a sort of spice paste, to which mint leaves and then the chicken pieces are added. The chicken is cooked fairly quickly and is done by steaming it so it stays tender.
Finally, grated coconut, which is added at the last moment, makes it possible to bind the sauce and obtain well-coated pieces of meat. Basmati rice is prepared separately. It is in its assembly that lies all the specificity of biryani.
This assembly is done by alternating layers of rice and meat. Then, fried onions, cashews and raisins are added. The addition of cilantro brings a lot of freshness and lightness to the dish. Finally, coconut milk soaks the entire preparation in the final minutes of cooking and provides an extremely soft and tasty result.
What are the variants of biryani?
Basmati rice is invariably associated with the preparation of biryani. However, depending on the region, there are certain specificities linked to local production. In northern India, long grain brown rice is used. In the south, samba rice is used while in Kerala, kaima/jeerakshala rice is used. However, basmati remains the most frequently used variety today.
The combination of spices that flavor the biryani is more or less codified but may include regional variants with less common spices such as mace. The precious saffron is also sometimes used.
If the meats in the biryani may differ, the biryani from Kerala is known for its shrimp version.
Biryani (बिरयानी) is a dish from the Indian subcontinent based on rice, in general, basmati, prepared with spices, meat, eggs or vegetables.
- 2 teaspoons ginger paste
- 2 teaspoons garlic paste
- 3 teaspoons chili powder
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- 1 lemon
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 5 bay leaves
- 5 cloves
- 1 (1 inch / 3 cm) piece cinnamon stick
- 4 pods cardamom
- 2 teaspoons cumin powder
- 2 teaspoons coriander powder
- 4 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
- Cut the chicken into pieces and prick with a fork.
- In a bowl, prepare the first mixture of spices: turmeric, chili powder, salt, ginger and garlic paste, yogurt and the juice of half a lemon. Apply the paste to the chicken, mix and let marinate for 3 hours.
- In a large bowl, prepare the second mixture of spices: cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, and coriander.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
- Fry the second spice mixture and ¾ of the onions for 2 minutes then add the mint leaves.
- When the onions turn brown, add the chicken with its marinade and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Cook covered for the first 10 minutes and uncovered the last 10 minutes.
Add the garam masala and the grated coconut, mix and remove from the heat.
- While the chicken cooks, prepare the basmati rice.
- Wash the rice twice with water until clear then place it in a saucepan with the same volume of water as the volume of rice, and a little salt.
- Melt the ghee in a small skillet over medium heat.
- Fry the cashews in the butter for 1 minute, then add the raisins and continue frying for 1 minute. Remove the dried fruits from the butter with a skimmer and set aside.
- In the same butter, fry the remaining onion and set aside.
- In the bottom of a large pot, add a layer of ⅓ of the rice then a layer of half the chicken, a second layer of rice, then a second layer of chicken and finish with a third layer of rice.
- Spread the onions, cashews and raisins on top.
- Pour the coconut milk over it and garnish with cilantro.
- Cover the pot and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes.
- Serve with raita.