Chicken Biryani. The two single most magical words a Pakistani can hear. There is something about the combination of spices the meat is cooked in, and the layering of boiled rice atop it before a final, collective steam that homogenizes the two in an umami like no other. It’s hard to explain, and I don’t think I really need to, considering how popular this dish has become globally, as it is now adapted in many nations.
The exact origins of biryani are uncertain, but we can agree that biryani was born in South Asia, and developed and made popular by the royal kitchens of the Mughals. While biryani is made with mutton, beef, and even fish and shrimp now, I think it’s safe to say that chicken is the most popular choice of protein in biryani.
There is a multitude of the types of biryani that exist now, and it is more a dish about technique than anything else. Overcook the rice and you’ll end up with a sloppy, unappetizing mess. Overcook the chicken and it will fall off the bones. Biryani is about perfecting timing, and chances are that you’ll have to fail at it a couple of times and learn best through trial and error.
While biryani is traditionally supposed to be made with basmati rice, I decided to cut down on the only guilt-inducing ingredient in it and replace the basmati with brown basmati. I figured it shouldn’t be too tricky, because even though it takes much longer to cook than white rice, I can keep a check and stop the cooking once they’re done 3/4th of the way, and drain the excess water.
The three main steps of making biryani are as follows:
- Make chicken
- Boil rice till its 3/4th done.
- Layer rice and chicken (some people alternate layers, I just dump the rice over the chicken and it does the job)
- Place the pot containing the layered products on very low heat, sealing the lid on the pot the best you can, either by placing a weight on top, or by sealing it with dough. The point is to trap all the steam inside and let that steam finish off the rice. If you fully cooked the rice in step 2, then step 4 would end up overcooking the rice.
Step 4 is crucial in making biryani what it is. Otherwise, it would just be masala chicken and rice mixed together. Through this step, you want to dry out any excess liquid or gravy. That final step of letting the steam tie the meat and the rice together is the most important step and that’s the one you need to master, and you can’t open the lid unnecessarily because it will release the steam.Also, the pot must be thick based so as to prevent any burning of the meat. A good way to tell if it’s safe to open the lid is by spraying a splash of water on the sides of the pot, and if it sizzles, it’s done.
Brown Rice Chicken Biryani
- 1.5 kg chicken, with bones, cut into 10-12 pieces. Skin is optional, I like to remove it.
- 1/3 cup oil
- 1/2 cup whipped yogurt
- 1 tsp garlic paste
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 3-4 dried prunes
- 1-2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp red chili powder
- 8-10 cloves
- 3 pods black cardamom
- 6 pods green cardamom
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 4 bay leaves
- 6 green chilies, whole.
- 1/2 cup freesh cilantro
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
- 250 grams baby tomatoes
- Add oil, chicken, ginger, garlic and dry spices to a thick-based pot and sautee.
- Rinse and soak the brown rice in cold water. It's best to soak it for an hour, so it cooks quicker.
- Once there is no pink left in the chicken and the oil is clearly distinguishable, add in the whipped yogurt and cook it down.
- Boil brown rice as per package instructions but stop when they're 3/4th done. Add some salt to the boiling water to avoid bland rice.
- Place a layer of fresh cilantro, green chilies (optional), fresh mint and 250 grams of baby tomatoes on top of the chicken. Do not mix.
- Strain all the water out of the rice (don't rinse)
- Carefully layer boiled rice atop the chicken, and try not to break the rice.
- Seal lid shut, lower heat to a minimum and let the rice finish cooking in the steam trapped inside. To know when the rice is done, spray a splash of water on the outer edge of the pot; if it sizzles, the rice is done.
- Carefully, starting from the inner edge of the pot, dig your slotted rice cooking spoon all the way to the bottom of the pot, and scoop out the chicken and rice onto the serving dish. This process will naturally and gingerly mix the two layers together without breaking the rice. At NO point is it ok to stir/mix the meat and rice together (unless it's on your plate. Then you can do whatever you want with your food).
- Garnish with a final sprinkling of fresh cilantro and -if you're like me- fried onions.
- Serve with whipped yogurt (you can add cumin and garlic paste to it if you'd like more flavor), and a chopped cucumber salad (dressed only with a little salt, black pepper and lemon).