Friday, July 13, 2007

Chicken Biryani

My summer wedding season is now in full swing. It began two weekends ago with an Indian Hindu-Christian union in San Francisco, continues this weekend with a gay couple marrying in the Hamptons, and will include nuptials in Luxembourg and Tuscany.

In the Ismaili tradition, a wedding meal centers around biryani, a rich and fragrant meat and rice dish that is traditionally served at feasts and celebrations. Biryani is distinctive for the richness and complexity of the meat, which is often marinated in yogurt and spices. In addition, the rice is usually flavored and scented for added appeal.

The term biryani comes from the Persian word beryā(n) which means “fried or roasted before cooking”, and is popular throughout South Asia and the Middle East. There are dozens of varieties specific to different regions, cultures and countries.

Persian in origin, biryani is thought to have been brought to South Asia by Timur (known as Tamburlaine in the West), a Turkish-Mongolian warlord who invaded India in the late 14th century. A different (and less common) version made its way to the subcontinent via Arab traders who landed at Calicut, in the Indian state of Kerala.

Traditionally the rice and meat are partially cooked separately, and then layered into a pot and cooked together to completion on low heat. My version, adapted from recipes from two different aunts, involves separate cooking of the rice and meat. While the most common type of biryani uses beef or mutton (goat), there are also vegetable, fish, quail, venison (deer) and prawn versions.

In addition to biryani, Ismaili weddings must include ladoos, a sugar-dipped chickpea flour sweet. Hopefully a recipe for ladoos will appear before the end of wedding season.

Serves 8


Chicken Marinade
3 pounds whole chicken or 2 1/2 pounds cut up chicken pieces on the bone, washed and patted dry
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
5 cloves
4 cardamom pods
3 pieces cinnamon bark
2 teaspoons fresh ginger puree
2 teaspoons fresh garlic puree
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt

2 cups Basmati rice
3 tablespoons canola or corn oil
5 cardamom pods
3 pieces cinnamon bark
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Chicken Curry
8 small red potatoes, peeled and whole if tiny or cut in half
canola or corn oil for deep frying
3 tablespoons canola or corn oil
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger puree
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh garlic puree
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
3 medium tomatoes, grated and skins discarded
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 bunch cilantro, stems removed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 1/4 cups store-bought fried onions, slightly ground in a mortar and pestle
4 hard boiled eggs, shelled and at room temperature (optional)
red bell peppers, in large pieces for garnish
cilantro, for garnish


Chicken Marinade
1. Mix yogurt, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon bark, ginger, garlic, cumin seeds, chili powder, lemon juice and salt. In a glass dish marinate the chicken in this mixture for 8 hours or overnight.

2. Wash rice according to directions on package. Soak in water for 30 minutes.
3. Heat the oil in a large pot on medium low heat. Sauté cardamom pods and cinnamon bark until bubbling.
4. Carefully add water (it will splatter) and salt. Increase heat to medium high to bring water to a boil.
5. Add turmeric and drained rice. When the water comes to a boil again, cover the pot and turn down the heat (though not quite as low as “simmer”). Make sure there is a small crack for the steam to escape.
6. After 10 minutes check to see that most of the water has evaporated. Shake the pot and lower heat to the lowest setting (usually “simmer”). Cook for another 10 minutes. As an alternative to the second 10 minutes of cooking, you can put the rice in an oven set to 225F to dry slowly. This will produce more fluffy rice.

Chicken Curry
7. Deep fry potatoes in oil. Make sure the potatoes are cooked all the way through. Remove and drain on paper towels.
8. In a large pot, on medium low heat, sauté garlic and ginger. Add fresh tomatoes, salt, lemon juice, turmeric and cilantro and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Then add tomato paste and garam masala and sauté for 2 minutes more.
9. Add the chicken pieces and 1/2 cup of the yogurt marinade. Cook the chicken for 15-20 minutes in a covered pot until the meat is no longer pink on the inside. Once the chicken is cooked, you should have a thick gravy. Sparingly add additional yogurt marinade if the chicken gravy seems too dry. If it is too thin, continue cooking uncovered to reduce.
10. Add potatoes and eggs and simmer for 5 minutes.
11. Serve in a large dish, topping a layer of rice with the chicken curry. Garnish with cilantro and slices or chunks of red bell pepper for color.


Vamsi said...

I am glad you posted a recipe for Biryani. It is one of my favorite items to eat. I do not make it often because of the time it takes to cook. My biryani is the "hyderabadi" variety with minor changes to your recipe. I semi-cook the rice and chicken curry, arrange them in layers along with deep fried onions (which is an important part of hyderabadi biryani) and cook them to completion. This manner of cooking helps the flavors mix thoroughly. I should try your recipe for a change.

cheesewithaspoon said...

I've never had chicken curry with *deep-fried* potatoes -- it sounds SINFULLY delicious! Yum!

Diane said...

Ooooh! Aly, I can't wait to try your biryani recipe! My grandma used to make a fabulous one too, with plump juicy raisins in the rice. Thanks for inspiring me!
Lots of love,
Diane (Nalini)

Jyothi said...

Hi, first time at your blog. Nice blog with yummy recipes. Never heard about aloo in chicken biryani. Interesting. But looks very tempting and delicious too. Next time I want to try version. My version, I have already posted in my blog. If you get the time, you can check once. Thanks for sharing your version. Keep it up.

Saju said...

looks like the real MCoy!! Reminds me of countless celebratary dinners.
By the way, I have a recipe of the yellow ladoo (bundi ja ladoo) on my blog.

bee said...

you have a wonderful blog here. we have added you to the blogroll. your biryani looks fantasttic.

Anonymous said...

but i thought you were vegetarian? how come you have meat dishes on your blog?

do you cook with meat? are the eggs meat-substitute, or in addition to the chicken?

i liked your blog, it is such a nice idea

hope you're well

Anonymous said...

Hey Aly--great recipe--I often use either lamb or even beef stew instead of chicken. Besides raisins, I add cashew and shelled almond slices. Have also had it with pistachios. Vege biryani is yummy too.

I am not much of a blogger responder!

And from your last blog--I was saddened to read about your friend's suicide. Sad, sad, sad--I am sending her lots of love and support--wherever she is now.


Anonymous said...

I have just been looking at your blog and wanted to let you know how excellent I think it is.

Though I am no gourmand and don't spend much time cooking, it's enjoyable to read your posts as they decipher the contents/process behind some of my favourite foods (chicken biriyani!) and are infused with such interesting facts and anecdotes. You should get a book published! (Although, something tells me that that idea may already be on your radar screen...)

All the best,


Anonymous said...

I was just reading about Chicken Biryani on your blog which looks absolutely delicious. The pictures really made my stomach growl and most people would not even consider me a food lover. I will have to try and make this sometime – I know my wife loves biryani.