First let’s begin with the very deserving praise
Biryani – the epitome of the cuisine of Indian Subcontinent. Nothing represents the spiciness, colorful vibrancy, the richness of flavors just like the culture and people of this place more than this dish. Rice, spice and meat never came together better than here. A confluence of persian and indian cuisine, each place has its own unique variant. But if any one variety takes the cake, it has to be the hyderabadi biryani, hands down. The term biryani is almost synonymous with the Hyderabadi dum biryani.
So why it’s so special?
What sets it apart is the style of cooking. The most authentic way is the “kachi yakhni”, in which the meat is marinated and the raw meat and half cooked rice are then layered and cooked over a slow fire, a method known as “dum pukht” and used for cooking meat in other parts of the subcontinent as well. Also made the “pakki yakhni” way, where the cooked meat and rice are steamed together, it seems to have developed as an easy way out as most people are apprehensive of layering raw meat and cooking it. But with judicious use of a meat tenderizer, a little patience and few pointers, it yields the most delectable results.
Here is my family recipe, which is I believe is as close to the authentic recipe as possible. You don’t need any ready made biryani masala for this. In fact, it will ruin everything (I am somewhat of a purist when it comes to traditional recipes) You will find almost all the ingredients in any Indian kitchen or even in a well stocked pantry of a non-indian one too.
Don’t be bogged down by the number of ingredients. I have listed many of them twice for the separate steps for the sake of convenience. The whole process is broken down into steps with the ingredients and method listed for each separately. And with a few tips along the way, it should make it easy and failproof for any home cook. Even the naive one! Also don’t forget to check out the notes at the end for a few pointers on preparing ahead so your biryani will be ready in no time for a Friday brunch or your dinner party. So lets get to it….
Ingredients & Method:
5 medium onions
2 cups oil
Thinly and evenly slice the onions and fry in about 2 cups of oil until golden brown. Drain the oil and remove onto a strainer over a plate. This will help air dry the onions and make them crisp. Save the oil. This is one of the most important ingredient in your biryani!
For marinating the meat
1 kg mutton / lamb meat (bone in, cubed)
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
1 tbsp turmeric
salt, to taste
red chili powder, to taste
Garam masala, whole:
4-5 cloves & green cardamoms each
2 sticks of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of caraway seeds (shahjeera)
garam masala, powder:
just take and grind equal quantities of cloves, cardamom,
cinnamon and caraway enough to make about 2 tsp of powder
1 cup yogurt
juice of one lemon
a generous amount of chopped coriander, mint and green chilis to taste
2/3 of Fried onions, crushed.
1 tbsp paste of raw papaya peel / 1 tsp of meat tenderizer
1/2 cup of warm milk with few strands of saffron soaked in it
The oil from the onions
In a large bowl, mix together the meat and all the ingredients mentioned in step 1 (use your hands for mixing! ensures even mixing and is so much fun) and refrigerate overnight. When ready to make the next day, remove from the refrigerator and add the ingredients listed in step 2 and leave for about an hour by the time you work on the rice and get other things ready.
If not marinating overnight, add all the ingredients in step 1 and step 2 together and allow to rest for an hour atleast.
Make sure to taste the marinade and adjust the seasoning.
For the rice:
1 kg of long grain basmati rice, washed and soaked for about half hour
whole garam masala spices: a few pieces of each mentioned above
A handful of chopped coriander and mint leaves
2-3 green chilis, slit
salt, a liberal handful and adjust to taste
Fill a large pot with water enough to cover the rice (don’t add the rice yet) and add the whole spices, coriander, mint, chilis and salt. Do a quick taste test. The water should be quite salty as we are going to drain it out. Bring to a rolling boil and then add the washed and drained rice to it. Boil the rice for about 10 minutes, or until it is 50 % done. Be careful not to cook more than this point. Keep a large colander ready in the sink and carefully drain out the water from the rice. In the end, drain out about about 2 cups of water into a mug and reserve this for using later.
For the layering for ‘dum’:
1/4 cup diluted red food color.
butter cubes / ghee
1/2 cup saffron milk
juice of half a lemon
a few chopped coriander and mint leaves
1/3 fried onions
Take a large dutch oven or a skillet with a wide bottom, such that the meat is almost a single layer at the bottom. Spread evenly the marinated meat. ( You can directly marinate the meat in the vessel if you can accommodate in the refrigerator or if you are not keeping it overnight ) Now over the meat, evenly spread out all the rice and using a spoon lightly press into a neat layer. Pour all over the food colour, saffron milk and the lemon juice. Sprinkle the leaves and the onions. Finally dot with butter / pour the ghee all over. Now carefully move the rice from the center using a large slotted spoon and pour inside the rice water reserved earlier.
Cover the whole skillet with Aluminium foil / cloth and cover tightly with the lid. Keep a heavy heat proof object on the lid to press it down and put it over the gas on the highest heat.
- After a few minutes, you will begin to hear the water boiling at the bottom of the skillet. Pay attention to this for a few minutes. After about ten minutes, the water should have evaporated and the sound of boiling water died down. Now reduce the heat to the lowest point and let it cook for about 15-20 minutes more.
- You can move your skillet around a little to ensure even heating.
- After about 15 minutes of slow cooking, very carefully move aside the lid and foil and check the bottom by moving some rice from the corner. You shouldn’t see any water. If you do, give it 4-5 minutes more and turn off the heat. Leave it covered for a few minutes for the steam to do the final job and settle down.
Serve onto a dish by mixing the meat and rice evenly as you spoon out.
Best served with Mirchiyon ka Salan & Yogurt Raita.
Tips for preparing ahead
1) Buy a small green papaya. Peel the skin and grind only the peels to the smooth paste with a little water if required. You can freeze this paste for months. Just thaw partially and spoon out as required. As for the peeled raw papaya it can be cooked as a vegetable.
2) Keep your fried onions ready. You can do this a day or two before.
3) Marinate overnight. The marination of the meat and cooking it over a slow fire is the real key. If you are marinating ahead, you shouldn’t add all the ingredients for the marinade, especially the raw papaya.
If you have this ready. All you have to do is cook the rice, layer, and then dum the meat and rice together for about half an hour.