Nasi is a Malay word for Rice but there are many ways to spell Biryani (briyani,biriani, buriyani, beryani or beriani). However, one thing in common is that biryani is a set of rice-based foods made with spices, rice (usually Basmati – very fragrant, long grained rice with light airy texture) and chicken, mutton, fish, eggs or vegetables. And the name is derived from the Persian word beryā(n) which means “fried” or “roasted”.
The variations of Nasi Biryani are quite international (Burmese, Indian, Indonesian, Iranian, Malaysian, Pakistani, Singaporean, Sri Lankan and Thai to name a few).
My personal favourite is the Hyderabadi Dum Biryani, where the rice and meat are cooked together in a sealed pot, which can be quite a daunting task for the first time home cook. I usually make a dough of flour and water to seal my pot when cooking this dish but these days, one can easily purchase a tight lidded heavy bottom stockpot to tackle this. The idea is to pressure cook the meat so that the masala spices used in the meat marinade will infuse the rice lending this dish a very fragrant aroma. Heat control is very important since one will not be able to stir and see the cooking process with the lid tightly sealed but I know the biryani is ready when all the neighbours in my apartment block start to smell what’s on my dinner menu
Buy good quality Biryani Masala spices enough to cook 1kg of meat from an Indian Grocer. I think it should be around 50g or 4 tbsp of spices, more if you like hit-by-the-truck kind of spiciness. Ask him if you’re not sure, a good spice miller knows how much is needed for 1 kg of meat.
Marinate the skinless chicken pieces (bone in is better. I use chicken thighs and drumsticks) with the Garam Masala Spices and Marinade for Chicken in recipe below, 1 tbsp of the whole spices, some oil and salt to taste. You can use mutton or only vegetables if you do not like chicken.
Add 1 stick Cinnamon, 1 tsp Black Cumin Seeds, 5 Green Cardamons, 3 Cloves and 1 tbsp Ghee or Oil and salt to taste (water should taste slightly salty) into a huge pot and bring to a fast boil. Add drained Basmati rice.
Put the marinated chicken (pre-cooked or still raw) at the bottom of stockpot. Here I am using 50% cooked rice as I want to steam the rice longer with the chicken to get better infusion of the spiced meat into the rice.
Pour a little bit of hot water into ½ tsp saffron strands (or powdered imitation saffron in warmed carnation evaporated milk to compensate flavour) and drizzle over a small area of the rice. Drizzle 1 tbsp of Ghee over the rice, optional. I do.
Seal the pot like this and turn on medium high heat for 5-10 minutes, then lower flame and cook till the whole house is bursting with flavours, about another 25 minutes. Pre-cooked chicken may be shorter in cooking time. Anyways, use your nose to judge
I use a pan to act as buffer and cook the Biryani for another 10-15 minutes (at this stage, you can loosen the dough and check if the chicken is cooked by carefully slipping the ladle at the side of pot to test a piece of meat).
Gently fluff up the rice with a fork or a pair of chopsticks to mix the “saffron-ed” rice and white rice.
Serve the Nasi Biryani hot with cold cucumber raita (shredded cucumber with unflavoured yogurt) and some tomato slices.
Marinade for Chicken:
1kg Chicken (with bones, skinless)
2 Green Chillies, cut into half
2 cups Yogurt (natural, unflavoured)
5 stalks Cilantro with roots intact, cut into half (chop up the leaves for marinade, and keep some aside for rice later)
2 tbsp Ginger Paste
2 tbsp Garlic Paste
1 Tomato, diced
1 tbs Lemon Juice
1 cup Fried Shallots (crispy onions)
1 bunch Mint Leaves (I leave them out as I do not like mint)
2 tbsp Ghee (Oil)
Garam Masala Spices:
(These spices are in packaged boxes but I do not know if the content’s quantity are the same):
6 Black Peppercorns
2 Black Cardamons
2 Green Cardamons
2 stick Cinnamon
2 Bay Leaves
1 tbsp Javitri Mace (or Nutmeg)
½ tsp Cumin Powder
½ tsp Coriander Powder
½ tsp Tumeric Powder
For the Basmati Rice:
500g Basmati Rice
Salt, to taste
1 stick Cinnamon
5 Green Cardamons
1 tsp Black Cumin Seeds
1-2 Bay Leaves
Lots of Hot Water to boil the rice
1 tbsp Ghee (Oil)
1 tsp Rose Water, optional
Soak the raw rice in lukewarm water for 30 minutes.
Put everything (except the rice) in a pot and bring to a fast boil.
Add rice and boil for about 2 minutes.
Drain away water (then add rose water to rice at this stage if using) and layer rice over the chicken.
Sprinkle with fried onions and the reserved chopped cilantro.
Seal pot and cook.
½ tsp Saffron Strands or ¼ tsp Saffron Powder (mixed with water or milk) and drizzle over cooked rice.
Fluff rice and serve.
P.S. For Biryani short cut version, click here.
I buy fresh milled spices from an Indian spice merchant at Queen Victoria Market.
Curry Corner fulfills most if not all of my Indian grocery needs. The owners are very helpful.
Let the biryani masters show you how it’s done here!