This is another classic of the Anglicised Indian restaurant and another dish which is generally misunderstood and not often served in any sort of traditional way. It is regarded by most as a mild dish and so it is in most Indian restaurants in the UK. But this is not necessarily the case, biryani and particularly lamb biryani has a long and rich history.
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. Lamb biryani is a very typical version of this dish. For two centuries the Moghul empire ruled a vast amount of the Indian subcontinent, however as it began to crumble new powers came to the fore.
One in particular was the Nazims of Hyderabad who split from the Moghul empire in 1707. They became the wealthiest people in the world and ruled the Hyderabad state until Indian independence in 1947.
They were connoisseurs of pretty much everything; literature, art, jewellery and, of course, exquisite food. Amongst other dishes the Nazim's kitchen were experts in biryani and prepared about 50 different varieties of biryani and of course lamb biryani would have been a favourite.
Biryani can be made from almost anything; lamb, goat, chicken, fish or vegetables to name but a few. The recipe I will give here is of the Hyderabadi style and is a lamb biryani; I will put some other variants on the site at a later date, both for different regional styles and different ingredients.
½ lb (225g) lamb or mutton
½ lb (225g) basmati rice (or other long grain if you must)
1 large onion
1 cup yoghurt
Fresh green chillis
Fresh coriander leaves
Fresh mint leaves
½ lime (is best but you can use lemon if you have to)
Oil for frying
Notes on Ingredients
Meat. Traditionally 'lamb biryani' would probably be goat mutton but for some reason most supermarkets don't seem to stock this, so I usually use lamb You can buy mutton and even goat mutton from a good Halal butcher or from the internet. Ideally it should be largish chunks of lamb rather than the standard diced lamb you can buy. This cooks for quite some time so it need not be a really good cut.
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.
Ground garam masala. Again you can use your own recipe or use a ready mixed one.
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. Lamb biryani is best cooked in ghee or mustard oil, you can you good rapeseed (canola) or sunflower oil if you have to.
Finely slice the onions and fry in some oil until soft and just starting
Chop the green chillis
Heat a dry frying pan and lightly roast the cumin and coriander seeds
Grind the seeds to a powder
Prepare garam masala if you are using your own
Cut the meat into nice big chunks and put in a non metallic bowl.
Into this put :-
the chopped chillis
1 teaspoon salt
the ground cumin and coriander
half the fried onions
a handful of fresh coarsely chopped coriander leaves
a handful of fresh coarsely chopped mint leaves
whole garam masala
juice of ½ 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 2 minutes - just to get the meat hot
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
Put in the whole garam masala
Put in the rest of the rice from the sieve and again spread evenly
Put in the remaining onions
Sprinkle with the ground garam masala
Pour over the saffron or turmeric water
Put on the lid and leave to cook for about 40 to 50 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.
Oil. If you use mustard oil then heat it till it just starts to smoke, if using any other oil then it should not smoke.
If you don't have a tight fitting lid 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.
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.
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