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Recipe: Chicken Biryani

It's got to be-e-e-e-e-e basmati...

My friend Asad once prepared a delicious chicken biryani for a group of us using left over chicken and a hodgepodge of ingredients.  We were on holidays in a rented house and only had what we’d brought, but it was one of the nicest biryanis I’ve ever had. It’s a great way to use up leftover chicken and rice, and is one of those dishes that will taste a little different every time you make it, depending on what spices and vegetables you have to hand.  Big thanks to Asad for the recipe.


  • 2 lbs. skinless chicken cut up (I like to get whole chickens and cut them into pieces–Pakistani butchers will cut the drumsticks and thighs into two parts, through the bone, which is good if you can manage it, with a cleaver. All the pieces should be large-bite size.)
  • 2 large or 3 medium-sized halved and thinly sliced onions
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 thumb sized-piece of ginger, finely diced
  • 2 tbl ground coriander powder (this is best if made freshly by roasting coriander seeds in a dry pan and then grinding into powder)
  • 1 tsp ground red pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt
  • Oil
  • Two pinches of saffron in half a teacup of milk, soaked for at least 1/2 hour
  • 2 cups basmati rice (it has to be basmati and it has to be from Pakistan or India – it cannot be organic Californian basmati, which doesn’t have the same properties)


  • Heat goodly amount of oil in a large pot and fry 1/3 of the onion until dark brown but not burned, then remove to a paper-towel lined plate to dry out. Reserve.
  • Add the chicken to pot and brown quickly, then remove to another plate.
  • Add 2/3 onions to pot and fry until they become golden brown.
  • Add garlic and ginger and fry a minute.
  • Add the powdered spices and salt, stir a minute to “fry” the spices.
  • Add the chicken and enough water to braise (halfway up chicken) and let cook for 15 minutes. Reduce liquid until it reaches “curry” consistency.
  • While liquid is reducing, wash the rice and put it into another pot of boiling, well-salted water. Cook about 5 minutes, or until rice is half-cooked, still just barely crunchy inside, just the raw side of al dente. Drain rice.

Now, assemble the biriyani:

  • In a large pot or other ovenproof vessel, put some of the chicken curry on the bottom, spreading around.
  • Then add some of the rice in a layer.
  • Then add more chicken, then more rice. It will take either two or three layers to finish all of the rice and chicken. On the top should be a rice layer. Over the top layer of rice add the reserved browned, cripsy onions, and then pour the saffron-infused milk irregularly over that.
  • Cover tightly and put the whole thing in the oven or over a very low fire for 45 minutes or so.

Serve this with raita (a simple one would be a thin yoghurt with some cumin seed and salt) and some cachumber (finely chopped tomato, cilantro and onion, like a pico de gallo). They can also be served with shami kebabs, but that’s another recipe…

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