Friday nights at my home are takeaway nights. For almost eight months straight last year, we ordered biryani.
The fluffy, aromatic rice at the top, tinged with yellow sitting amongst a bed of boiled eggs was perfect for my spice-hating toddler. The juicy, almost falling apart pieces of lamb loved by my ‘I need to eat meat everyday’ husband. As for me, there’s nothing that satisfies my Indian soul more than a bowl of rice does. But what I loved more was that almost always there would be leftovers for Saturday lunch - one more meal conundrum solved!
Biryani is a celebration of all that is great about Indian food
According to many, biryani has its origin in Persia and was introduced to the Indian subcontinent by the Mughals. Legend has it that Queen Mumtaz Mahal once visited her army troops only to find out the soldiers were undernourished. She asked the cooks to create a dish that featured both meat and rice and what originated was biryani.
Today biryani is made in many different ways across the Indian subcontinent. Some make it with chicken, others with fish. Keralan communities use short grain rice, Bengali's add potato, Mumbaikars like their biryani with more gravy - the list goes on.
Cooking biryani at home
I’m not sure why I resisted making biryani at home for so long. It’s likely the long ingredient list and multiple stages of cooking. Also, I have no patience for making a dough that’s solely used to seal steam.
My mind block melted when I came across a food blog that rather inaccurately simplified biryani to “meat cooked with your favourite spicy curry sauce baked with a layer of rice.” The Indian food snob in me was horrified while the Kiwi cook in me appreciated the simplicity.
If you want to make a biryani that’s as close to the real thing, you can’t escape the multiple stages of cooking, but there are hacks to make life easy. Our Dolly Mumma Biryani Box is definitely one of them.
Some other hacks include buying pre-marinated Tandoori lamb from my local Pakistani butcher, hunting for Shan Biryani Masala and smoking my biryani using a dutch oven and foil. Though haters will say that replacing the lamb with chicken is not "authentic" that does also cut down on cooking time.
Ingredients (for 6-8 servings)
1kg lamb on the bone
1/2 bottle Dolly Mumma Tandoori Paste
Salt to taste
For the biryani rice
Dolly Mumma Biryani Rice Pack
300-350gm long-grain basmati rice (ideally aged)
2 tbsp cumin seeds
3-4 bay leaves
5-6 star anise
2 tbsp ghee
Salt to taste
For the biryani gravy
2-3 tbsp ghee
1 jar Dolly Mumma Indian Everyday Paste
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp fenugreek leaves (optional)
Layering the biryani
1 pinch saffron or 1 pinch turmeric powder
50 ml warm milk or hot water
100-150gm birista (deep-fried sliced onion)
coriander to garnish
100-150gm deep-fried cashews
1 large piece of charcoal
Begin with the marination
- Marinate the lamb with salt and the Tandoori Paste. Allow to ideally marinate overnight.
Next comes the gravy
- To make the gravy, warm up the ghee in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Fry the onion until golden brown. Add in the marinated lamb allowing it to sear on high heat until sealed.
- Add in the Indian Everyday paste, tomato paste and fenugreek leaves. Mix everything well. Cover and cook in the oven, slow-cooker or on the stove until the lamb is close to falling apart. Biryani tastes best when the meat is falling apart so you must cook the lamb until completely tender.
- When the lamb is cooked, cook the gravy until it's a thick and dry. You don't want too much liquid.
Cook the rice
- Wash the rice in a colander.
- Heat the ghee in a saucepan. Add in the cumin seeds, bay leaves, star anise and cloves. Cook briefly on high heat until the spices release their aroma.
- Add in the rice and top with water. Similar to cooking pasta, you want to cook the rice in excess water - this helps to make the rice grains cook separately.
- After 15 minutes, check on your rice. When it's almost cooked, turn off the heat and strain all the water out. The rice will cook again later so make sure not to overcook it.
Now, let's layer the biryani
- Warm up the milk/water and add in your saffron. The saffron gives the biryani a delicious aroma and your rice a lovely tinge of yellow. If you don't have saffron, substitute with turmeric to still get the yellow rice. Note that your rice will not turn orange like the takeaway shops make it unless you use food colour.
- Optional step: Make sure your cashews are fried, coriander is chopped and birista handy.
- Using a dutch oven or a deep baking dish, begin with a layer of the biryani gravy. Top with rice.
- Now sprinkle on some of the saffron or turmeric mixture, a fistful of birista and a sprinkle of coriander.
- Repeat the layers until you reach the top. Finish by adding cashews and a final fistful of birista. Don't add coriander to the top, as the steam will make it an unappealing brown.
For added flavour, smoke the biryani (optional)
- On an open flame, heat the piece of charcoal until red hot (about 7-10 minutes).
- Take a small steel bowl and, using tongs, place the charcoal inside.
- Make a small dent at the top of your baking dish and place the steel bowl.
- Add the oil and quickly cover with a lid as the charcoal starts to smoke. Seal the edges with foil.
- Place the dish in the oven and cook for a further 15-20 minutes at 150 degrees.
Serve hot with raita or even by itself. Note: Adjust cooking times if replacing with chicken. If you'd like to make it vegetarian, consider using paneer or halloumi as well some mixed vegetables.
Biryani is a celebration of all that is great about Indian food. Imagine, the heady aroma of whole spices slow-cooking, the vibrant colour of the marinated meat cooking in its own juices, and the long grains of rice bringing everything together.… read more