Chicken biryani is the ultimate celebration meal - fragrant rice is layered with tender chicken that is cooked in spices and aromatics. Each spoonful is pure pleasure - the perfect dish for a feast!
Chicken biryani has made it to the global map, and for good reason. This dish is a feast, a labour of love that is certainly worth that extra effort it takes to make it. This doesn’t mean that biryani is a complicated dish, it is pretty straight forward and simple if you follow the steps that I’ve detailed in this recipe.
Simply put, biryani is a meal made by layering rice and chicken together, and cooking these ingredients in whole spices such as bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, aromatics such as mint, coriander, spices powders and topping the layers with roasted nuts and caramelised onions. Perhaps the most popular version of the dish is the ‘dum’ biryani – which is made by partially cooking rice and layering it with partially cooked meat and cooking the entire thing in a pot with a sealed lid - thrus cooking the layers in steam.
The cuisine of India is vast and varied, and the varieties of biryani are numerous, indigenous to the region that they belong to. Hyderabadi biryani one of the more popular versions – usually made with goat meat (mutton). The Lucknowi biryani is famous for using cashewnut paste, saffron and whole spices that give it characteristic flavour.
Different Types of Biryani
Biryani can be made in two ways – the ‘kachcha’ biryani is the kind in which raw meat is cooked with raw or partially cooked rice. Then there is the ‘pukka’ biryani in which both the meat and rice are cooked separately. They are then assembled and optionally, finished by cooking together for a few minutes more.
This recipe is inspired from Kerala, a dish that is popularly known as Malabar biryani. A 'pukka' biryani, this is a recipe perfected by my mother, and I find it both easy to follow and absolutely delicious!
To make this recipe, the chicken is first marinated in (powdered) spices and yogurt and then cooked until done. Onions and grated carrots are also cooked in the same pan, and then added to the chicken – this makes up the ‘chicken masala’ part of the dish.
The next part is the rice – use a good quality long grain rice such as basmati for this recipe. Cook it until just done – here is a good tutorial on cooking basmati rice on the stove-top and Instant Pot. We want the rice to be cooked just right, we will be finishing off the rice by layering it with chicken in the oven later.
The final step here is to assemble the layers in an oven-proof pot. Use a dutch oven or any heat-resistant pot for this. Rice is layered with the chicken gravy, followed by another layer of rice, then chicken and finally rice. The dish is then finished off in the oven for 10 -15 minutes.
Step by Step Recipe Instructions
To begin, clean the chicken pieces and marinate them in a mixture of yogurt, red chili powder, enough salt to season, garam masala and minced ginger and garlic (or ginger-garlic paste). Keep refrigerated for at least 1 hour. The longer the chicken is marinated, the more flavorful and tender. If possible marinate overnight.
In a wok on the stovetop, heat some ghee. Once the ghee is hot, add sliced red onions, and saute for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Then add grated carrots and continue to cook, until the carrots are soft (around 3-4 minutes).
To the carrot-onion mixture, add tomato puree. I used blended tomatoes, but you can used canned puree as well. Mix with the carot-onion mixture and cook for 3 minutes. Keep this mixture aside.
To the same wok, add a tablespoon of ghee and add the marinated chicken. Let the chicken cook until just done - around 15-16 minutes.
To the cooked chicken, add the carrot-onion-tomato mixture, along with chopped fresh mint and coriander. Turn off the stove. The chicken 'masala' is ready. Keep this aside and prepare the rice.
The basmati rice should be washed 2-3 times, rinse off the excess starch and then soaked in cold water for 20-30 minutes. This helps the rice to absorb water better and retain its shape. To prepare the rice on the stovetop, heat ghee in a pot, and add cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon and cardomom. Heat for a couple of minutes, until fragrant. Then add the soaked and drained rice, and saute lightly, to coat the rice with ghee.
For a flavour boost, I cook the rice in homemade chicken stock. I highly recommend this step.
Finally, Assemble the biryani: Get out a dutch oven, or heavy-bottom oven safe vessel, and coat the bottom with some ghee. Layer the rice over the bottom.
Over the rice, layer some of the chicken masala. Cover with another layer of rice, and repeat with the chicken and then the rice.
Warm some milk and add a few strands of saffron. Let the saffron steep for at least 10 minutes in the milk. Add this saffron-milk mixture to the layered biryani and transfer the dish to the oven. Cook for 10 minutes at 190 C. Finally, take out the dish, garnish with a layer of caramelised onions, fresh mint and ghee-roasted raisins and cashews.
Biryani can be served with various accompaniments, the most popular of which are raita, pickle (achaar) and salan (curry), a South Indian style gravy.
A dip made of yogurt, and very often tempered with cumin seeds, garam masala and coriander, this cooling side is the perfect foil to a full-bodied biryani dish. I like added pomegranate seeds to tempered yogurt, and serving this as a side for chicken biryani. This recipe for raita is easy and delicious as well!
Indian pickles are typically made with vegetables and/or dried fruits and marinated in brine or oils. Indian spices are added as well, to preserve the pickles. Lemon pickle, mango pickle, vegetable pickle – these are common sides for chicken biryani.
A curry, sometimes with added whole chilies, salan is a popular side, usually served in Indian restaurants. This recipe for ‘mirch ka salan’ or chilli curry is easy to follow and makes this dish even more flavourful and enjoyable.
Biryani can be made with a few different varieties of rice, but the most common one is the long-grained basmati rice. This rice hold its shape, is aromatic, and isn’t glutinous, making it ideal for this recipe. A tip for perfectly cooked Basmati rice is to soak it in water for 15-20 minutes before cooking. Jasmine rice can be used as a substitute for basmati rice in biryani.
There is a thin line of difference between what defines a pulao and a biryani. In general, a biryani is made by layering rice with meat or vegetables – with the rice being the bottom and the top layer. A pulao is usually cooked with the vegetables itself, making this a one-pot dish.
Biryani can be made as much or as little spicy as you need it to be. A tip to reduce heat in the biryani is to use Kashmiri red chili powder in the chicken marinade. This spice powder is low on heat, yet gives a vibrant red color to the meat. Spice powders are added to the marinade and whole spices are added while cooking the rice. These add flavour to the biryani, but do not increase the heat or potency of the biryani.
More Indian Recipes to Try
- Dutch Oven
- Rice cooker or pot
- 800 grams Chicken thighs and legs skinless, preferably bone-in
For the marinade
For the chicken masala
For the rice
For the caramelised onions, raisins and nut topping
For assembling the biryani:
- a few saffron strands
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/3 cup fresh mint and coriander chopped
Marinate the chicken:
- Clean the chicken thighs and legs, pat dry
- Mix the chicken pieces along with all the ingredients listed under the marinade and keep in bowl for at least 1 hour, or upto overnight.
Prepare the chicken masala:
- In a wok on the stovetop, heat the ghee
- Once the ghee is hot, add sliced red onions, and saute for 3-4 minutes, until soft
- Add grated carrots and continue to cook, until the carrots are soft (around 3-4 minutes)
- To the carrot-onion mixture, add tomato puree, mix well and cook for 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or pan and keep aside.
- To the same wok, add a tablespoon of ghee and add the marinated chicken. Let the chicken cook on medium heat, flipping the pieces untill evenly cooked (around 15-20 minutes).
- To the cooked chicken, add the carrot-onion-tomato mixture, along with chopped fresh mint and coriander. Mix well and cook for 1-2 minutes. Keep aside.
Prepare the rice:
- Rinse the rice to get rid of excess starch and soak the rice in cold water for 20-30 minutes.
- After soaking, drain the water and keep aside.
- In a large pot on the stovetop, heat ghee and add cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon and cardomom. Heat for a couple of minutes, until fragrant.
- Add the soaked and drained rice, and saute lightly, to coat the rice with ghee.
- Add the homemade broth (or use salted water) and cook the rice for 15-20 minutes on low-medium heat, untill the rice is just cooked. Do not overcook the rice. Once done, take it off the heat and fluff it with a fork.
Prepare the caramelised onions, nut and raisins:
- While the rice is cooking, you can prepare the toppings for the biryani separately.
- Heat ghee in a saucepan and add the sliced onions. Saute for 20-25 minutes until onions are caramelised. Keep aside.
- In the same pan, add cashews, raisins and saute until cashews are slightly brown. Keep aside.
Assemble the biryani:
- In an oven-safe vessel, such as a dutch oven, brush the bottom with some ghee. Layer some of the rice into the vessel.
- Over the rice, layer some of the chicken masala. Cover with another layer of rice, and repeat with the chicken and then the rice.
- Warm some milk and add a few strands of saffron. Let the saffron steep for at least 10 minutes in the milk. Add this saffron-milk mixture to the layered biryani and transfer the dish to the oven.
- Cook for 10 minutes at 190 C.
- Finally, take out the dish, garnish with a layer of caramelised onions, fresh mint and ghee-roasted raisins and cashews.