Biryani Recipe (Part 2) – Spiced Rice Is Nice!

The difference between Biryani and Pulao (Pilaf in English) is that in pulao, the Basmati rice is usually cooked in the meat/vegetable seasoned broth. Depending on the local cuisine, pulao may also contain dried fruits, fish, meat and vegetables. Overall, pulao uses lesser amount of spice mix as compared to a biryani dish and the spices are usually kept whole (not powdered).

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Common whole spices that are used to flavour the broth or water when cooking Basmati rice for Biryani or Pulao (Pilaf).
Clockwise: Bay Leaves, Cloves, Caraway Seeds which is actually Black Cumin (sajeera), Green Cardamon, Star Anise and Cinnamon.

The most important and frequently used spices and flavourings in Indian cuisine are whole or powdered chilli pepper (mirch, introduced by the Portuguese from Mexico in the 16th century), black mustard seed (sarso), cardamom (elaichi), cumin (jeera), turmeric (haldi), asafoetida (hing), ginger (adrak), coriander (dhania), and garlic (lasoon). One popular spice mix is garam masala, a powder that typically includes five or more dried spices, especially cardamom, cinnamon (dalchini), and clove. Each culinary region has a distinctive garam masala blend—individual chefs may also have their own. Goda masala is a comparable, though sweet, spice mix popular in Maharashtra. Some leaves commonly used for flavouring include bay leaves (tejpat), coriander leaves, fenugreek leaves, and mint leaves. The use of curry leaves and roots for flavouring is typical of Gujarati and South Indian cuisine. Sweet dishes are often seasoned with cardamom, saffron, nutmeg and rose petal essences. ~ Wikipedia

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Saffron will always be expensive and if you come across a cheap one in the marketplace, walk away!
Never buy ground saffron as they could be a fraudulent mixture turmeric, paprika and some woody bark.

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Instead of using yellow food colouring, I prefer to use Saffron although they are very expensive, a little goes a long way, also I don’t mind paying more for its health benefits!
Saffron strands should turn warm water/milk bright yellow after a brief soak but I like to use my tiny “gold” pestle and mortar so I pound them gently in that and say “Oṃ”, repetitive chore can be quite therapeutic.

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I did not use Mint leaves (I don’t like mint) and cut Green Chillies this time as TJ might be wanting some.

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Wash Basmati until water runs clear and soak in tepid/warm water for an hour.
Like I said, I was not having the luxury of time so mine was soaked for 30 minutes only.
Soaking the Basmati is important because that’s how the rice can expand lengthwise and you will get beautiful long fluffy grains.
Drain in a colander and transfer them into a prepared pot of spicy boiling water.

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Bring a huge pot of water to the boil and season it with whole spices, oil and salt. This process is very similar to cooking pasta – don’t be stingy, salt your water correctly!
How do we know if the water is correctly seasoned? The water should be on the salty side. I let this simmer for a few minutes before putting in the washed, soaked and drained rice. Remember to turn up the heat and let water come to a fast boil before putting in the rice. Cook Basmati for 2 minutes (30% cooked rice) if using raw chicken method and 3-4 minutes (50-70% cooked rice) if using partially cooked chicken method.

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Assembling the Chicken Biryani.
Layering process – 1) partially cooked basmati rice at bottom (for marinated but raw chicken, skip this step and put the chicken in single layer at the bottom of pot), 2) partially cooked chicken masala, 3) garnish with cilantro, fried onions, mint leaves, cut green chillies and then 4) top with the rest of the basmati rice, 5) add more of the garnishing, 6) sprinkle with rose water, kewra (if using) and saffron.

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Mine is the partially cooked type of dum biryani so I have layered the bottom with the parboiled basmati, spread out the chicken masala in one layer and top off with the rest of the rice. Garnish with fried shallots, cilantro, rose kewra (if using), saffron soaked water.

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Garnish with fried shallots, cilantro, mint leaves, cut green chillies, rose water, kewra or knotted pandan leaves (if using), saffron-soaked water. I also drizzled in 1 tablespoon of the deep orange-red-coloured-oil from frying of the chicken pieces and a small dollop of ghee onto the rice.
I did not use mint, green chillies, or kewra.

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After drizzling in the saffron, rose water, etc… etc… Cover the lid and seal it with a dough (see my previous post here: ).
Sealing the pot lid is important because good biryani is “pressure-cooked” with the steam infusing it with the flavours of the marinated chicken and quality basmati. If need be, add weight on top of the lid. Unfortunately, lacking time, I didn’t make any dough this time round and did not place a weight on the lid. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes on medium high heat.

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For raw marinated chicken: cook the biryani for 5-10 minutes on high heat, reduce flame and cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Put a tawa griddle (or flat bottom pan) and continue to slow-cook for another 15 minutes on low heat.
For partially cooked chicken: cook the biryani for 5 minutes on high heat, reduce flame and transfer pot onto a tawa griddle (or flat bottom pan) and continue to slow-cook for another 20 minutes on low heat.
It is done when the aromatic smell permeates the kitchen.
Turn off heat but do not open the lid. Let it stand for 10 minutes.

Biryani uses much more spices than Pulao and is more vibrant in colour and taste.

Biryani uses much more spices than Pulao and is more vibrant in colour and taste.
Fried shallots will give a slight brown tinge to the rice, while the chilli oil and saffron lent the yellow, orangey red hues.

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After 10 minutes of standing time, remove lid and gently fluff up the rice.
P.S. I like to add the saffron water only at the end of cooking – drizzle over rice, cover and let stand 10 minutes.

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Biryani is best eaten whilst still hot.

Difference between Biryani and Pulao:
Pilaf or Pulao, as it is known in the South Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, is another mixed rice dish popular in Indian, Pakistani and Middle Eastern cuisine. Opinions differ on the differences between pulao and biryani, and whether there is a difference between the two at all.

According to Delhi-based historian Sohail Nakhvi, Pulao tends to be (comparatively) plainer than the biryani and consists of either vegetables or meat cooked with rice. Biryani on the other hand contains more gravy (due to the use of yakhni in it), is often cooked for longer (hence yielding more tender meat or vegetables) and with additional condiments. Pratibha Karan states that while the terms are often applied arbitrarily, the main distinction is that a biryani comprises two layers of rice with a layer of meat (or vegetables) in the middle; the pulao is not layered.

Colleen Taylor Sen lists the following three distinctions between biryani and pulao:

1) Biryani is the primary dish in a meal, while the pulao is usually a secondary accompaniment in a larger meal.

2) In biryani, meat and rice are cooked separately before being layered and cooked together. Pulao is a single-pot dish: meat and rice are simmered in a liquid until the liquid is absorbed. However, some other writers, such as Holly Shaffer (based on her observations in Lucknow), R. K. Saxena and Sangeeta Bhatnagar have reported pulao recipes in which the rice and meat are cooked separately and then mixed before the dum cooking.

3) Biryanis have more complex and stronger spices, compared to pulao. The British-era author Abdul Halim Sharar mentions this as the primary difference between biryani and pulao: the biryani has a stronger taste of curried rice due to a higher amount of spices.” – Wikipedia

Biryani Rice Ingredients: (Serves 8)
1kg Basmati Rice (I used India Gate, same brand as the one I cooked in Melbourne).
4 – 5 litres Water to boil the 1kg rice (just like cooking spaghetti).
Salt, to taste (guideline use 1½ – 2 tablespoons Sea Salt).
2 short sticks Cinnamon.
8 Green Cardamons, slightly cracked.
8 Cloves.
2 teaspoons Black Cumin/Caraway Seeds (Sa Jeera).
2-3 Bay Leaves.

My family members puzzled me when they said eating biryani is a “dangerous” treat. I later found out that they detest “accidentally” biting into some of the whole spices i.e. cardamons and cloves which are not easily spotted like the cinnamon bark or star anise.
Solution: Put whole spices into a small muslin cloth and knot it like how you would bag a bouquet garni. Remove the bag when rice is cooked.

Perfuming Agents:
1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil (I used Ghee).
A few strands of Saffron, pounded to get around ¼ to ½ teaspoon. Soaked saffron in warm water (you may use milk).
1 tablespoon Rose Water (store-bought but can be made by distilling rose petals in water and extracting the flavours).

Variation (Bombay-styled Biryani):
2 teaspoons Kewra Water (flavours extracted from the Pandan Leaves) to be added to the pre-soaked and drained biryani rice. For local Singaporeans and those who know what Pandan Leaf is, you may also use 5 pandan leaves, washed and knotted, and stick them into the rice (like cooking Hainanese Chicken Rice).

Chopped Coriander Leaves, Mint Leaves, Fried Shallots/Red Onions and sliced Green Chillies. Some folks like to add fried cashews and raisins/sultanas to their biryani/pilaf. All amount according to your personal preferences.

Soak the raw Basmati rice in lukewarm water for an hour (I managed 30 minutes and it was fine). Drain away water after 1 hour.

In a huge pot of hot water, add in the whole spices and salt, and let it boil for a few minutes. The water must be well seasoned with salt, like cooking pasta. Taste for correct amount of saltiness before adding the oil/ghee.

Bring back the water to a fast boil and add in the drained rice.

Boil rice for on high heat for about 2-4 minutes (depending on the raw or partial-cooked chicken method). Drain away water when rice is cooked.

Layer rice over the marinated chicken masala (see assembly methods below). Garnish with rice with ingredients from “Garnishing”.

Combine the liquid extracts (saffron, rose water, kewra water) and sprinkle onto the rice.

Raw Chicken Method:
Put chicken directly into the Handi pot in a single layer and gently pressed them against the pot. Add in the 2 minute parboiled Basmati and garnish. Seal pot and cook the biryani for 5-10 minutes on medium-high heat, reduce flame and cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Put a tawa griddle (or flat bottom pan) and continue to slow-cook for another 15-20 minutes on low heat.

Partial-cooked Chicken Method:
Spread a thin layer of 70% cooked rice onto the bottom of a Handi or heavy bottom pot. Place chicken and its oily paste in a single layer and top up with the rest of the rice. Seal the pot and cook the biryani on medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Place the sealed pot onto a tawa griddle (or flat bottom pan) and reduce heat to low, continue to slow-cook for another 20 minutes.

When biryani is done, Do Not Open the lid immediately but let it stand covered for 10 minutes.

Fluff gently (like folding cake batter) to combine the chicken and rice. Serve Biryani hot with Raita or plain yoghurt on the side.

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Biryani makes a delicious one-pot dinner and exotic mouthwatering potluck to bring to parties!
Ahhh… I see you are eyeing the fish! Well, they are Masala Fish Fry (recipe coming up) and is a good protein alternative for those who don’t like to eat meat.

Cucumber Raita Recipe:
1 English Cucumber (those used in sandwiches or Chinese chicken rice).
1kg tub Greek Yoghurt (natural flavour).
Pinch of dry-roasted cumin for that nutty, peppery flavour, optional.

Mint Leaves, Lemon Juice, Salt and Coarse Ground Black Pepper, optional and to taste.

Remove the core/seeds with a spoon and coarsely shred/julienne the cucumber. Not necessary to squeeze dry but discard excess liquid.
Place shredded cucumber in a large bowl and mix in the yogurt.
Season according to taste.
Keep in fridge till needed.
Takes away the “heat” of the Biryani.

Click here to see Biryani (Recipe Part 1) – Chicken Masala.

See other chicken biryani posts I blogged when we were living in Melbourne, Australia:
Biryani (Short Cut)
Nasi Biryani (Chicken)

Happy cooking, eating and bonding! 🙂

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