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Chicken Biryani Recipe

Chicken Biryani
Chicken Biryani

Despite its popularity, the average chicken biryani recipe commonly served up in Westernized Indian restaurants doesn't measure up to this enormously tasty dish. It has fallen prey to the British Indian Restaurant 'code' whereby biryani means mild. But this is not necessarily the case, biryani has a long and rich history. This chicken biryani recipe is just one of a whole heap of variations.

Biryani was brought to India by the Moghuls in the early 16th century and so is originally a Persian dish - and indeed there are Persian (Iran/Iraq) variants as well as similar dishes cooked in the rest of the east, in Thailand, and Malaysia for example. For two centuries the Moghul empire ruled a vast amount of the Indian subcontinent and they were a major feature of the Northern Indian cultural landscape; chicken biryani recipes are very typical of this dish.

Biryani can be made from almost anything; lamb, goat, chicken, fish or vegetables to name but a few. The chicken biryani recipe I will give here is of the Awadhi (Lucknow) style from the North East of India. I have put another variant on the site - the Hyderabadi style lamb biryani.

It should also be noted that there are two distinct styles of chicken biryani recipe, kacchi and pakki. Kacchi means 'raw' and that the meat and rice are cooked together. In the pakki style, the meat is cooked first and then the put together with cooked rice - this is quicker and a little easier. Here we will use the pakki procedure. There is nothing to stop you using the kacchi style (which I have used in the lamb biryani recipe)

Basic Ingredients

1 lb (450g) chicken
¾ lb (340g) basmati rice (or other long grain if you must)
2 large onion
2 cloves garlic
inch (1cm) root ginger
1 cup yoghurt
Fresh green chillis
Fresh coriander leaves
Fresh mint leaves
Juice of lemon (or lime)
Oil for frying

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
teaspoon fenugreek seeds
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods
1 inch (2.5cm) cinnamon stick
4 cloves
teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon whole garam masala
Chilli powder
6 black peppercorns
Turmeric or saffron

Notes on Ingredients

Meat. A traditional chicken biryani recipe would probably call for a whole chicken - jointed, with or without bones. I usually use chicken breast. Ideally it should be largish chunks of chicken rather than the standard diced chicken you can buy.

Chillis. I use 2 medium size, medium strength chillis in this and this is OK for me - adjust to suit.

Chilli powder. I use about ½ teaspoon in these quantities.

Whole Garam Masala. This is just a mixture of whole spices. For this I use 5 green cardamom, 5 cloves, a few bits of broken up cinnamon and a few bits of mace.

Salt. I know some people are paranoid about salt but it really is important in this dish. You need about 1 teaspoon to marinate the meat and some more for cooking the rice.

Saffron or Turmeric. If you are going to do this really properly then you need to make saffron water (a few strands of saffron in about 2 tablespoons of hot water and use the coloured water when it has cooled). However saffron is both difficult to find and remarkably expensive when you do find it. It is OK to use about ¼ teaspoon of turmeric in 2 tablespoons of hot water.

Oil. Most chicken biryani recipes call for ghee or mustard oil and these really are the best. You can you good rapeseed (canola) or sunflower oil if you have to.

I recently discovered a company that sells a good range of really good spices called 'Seasoned Pioneers' (highly recommended by loads of TV chefs). They are properly roasted, pretty authentic and they do both individual spices and Indian spice mixes. For example vindaloo spice mix, rogan josh, etc - here is a link to their biryani mix, you can replace all the gound spices with about 2-3 teaspoons of this mixture.

Seasoned Pioneers Biryani Spice Blend

Basic Method

Finely slice the onions.
Chop the green chillis
Heat a dry frying pan and lightly roast the cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cloves, cinnamon and peppercorns
Grind the seeds to a powder together with the cardamom seeds and nutmeg
Make a paste with about an onion, the garlic, ginger and chilli
Fry the rest of the onions in ghee or oil until they are soft and just start to brown
Cut the meat into nice big chunks and put in a non metallic bowl.
Sprinkle on some salt and squeeze the lemon juice over this and leave for 10 minutes
Into this put :-
        the chopped chillis
        the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli paste
        about of the fried onions
        chilli powder
        1 teaspoon salt
        the ground cumin and coriander
        a handful of fresh coarsely chopped coriander leaves
        a handful of fresh coarsely chopped mint leaves
        black peppercorns
        whole garam masala
        juice of lime (or lemon)
Mix this lot up and leave for a couple of hours (you can leave it overnight, covered, in the fridge if you want)

(some time later)

Boil lots of water in a large saucepan
Put in 2 teaspoons of salt
Put in the rice
Boil hard for 4 minutes
Take out half the rice with a sieve and rinse with cold water - put this in a bowl
After the rest of the rice has cooked for a further 2 minutes pour this into the sieve and rinse

Put some oil into a heavy bottomed pan and heat
Put in the meat mixture and fry for about 10 minutes until the meat is sealed and turned white
Turn the heat right down as low as you can
Put in the first bowl of rice (the one that is least cooked) and spread it out to cover the meat
Put in a handful of coriander leaves
Put in half the remaining onions
Add the whole garam masala
Put in the rest of the rice from the sieve and again spread evenly
Put in the remaining onions and some more coriander leaves
Pour over the saffron or turmeric water
Put on the lid and leave to cook for about 30 to 40 minutes

Notes on Method

Rice. You can soak the rice first and then rinse if you like - this helps to get rid of excess starch.
The idea of the two layers of rice is that the bottom layer will cook more in the pot and this stops it getting too sticky.

The pan. Because this cannot be stirred whilst it is being cooked the pan must have a thick bottom otherwise the meat will stick and burn. If you don't have such a pan then a neat trick is to put a frying pan on the hob and sit the pan in the frying pan. Alternatively (and what I sometimes do) you can fry of the meat in a pan and then transfer to a slow cooker and continue from there. This works very well for me.

Oil. I usually use ghee for chicken biryani, if you use mustard oil then heat it till it just starts to smoke, if using any other oil then it should not smoke.

Every good chicken biryani recipe stresses a tight fitting lid, if you don't have one then you can make a good seal by making a dough (just flour and water) rolling it out and making a seal round the edge of the pan and then covering with whatever lid you have.

This chicken biryani recipe produces pretty much a complete meal on its own, but you can eat it with a nice cucumber raita and maybe some sort of vegetable pakora.

The quantities suggested here will serve between 2 and 4 people depending on appetite and what you eat with it.

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