Reading Time: 3 minutesA dish that has evolved through the ages still retains its richness of flavour and regional variety
Perhaps the most famous rice dish in the world today, biryani (also known as biriyani, buriyani, beriyani) has a rich, varied and interesting culinary history.
Biryani has received its cult status today as an Indian dish, but this rice preparation originated in Persia (there is a village named Beryani in Iran). The term ‘biryani’ is derived from the Farsi word ‘beryan,’ which means fried or roasted. It is quite the debate as to how this dish could have arrived in India. Some say it was introduced by Persians through Afghanistan to the northern regions of India, while others claim the dish was first introduced in the Malabar region of Kerala by Arab traders who came via the Arabian Sea in search of black pepper and other spices. There are other colourful stories too, but these two are the most promising ones.
Over the centuries, cultural and regional differences gave rise to different types of biryani in India. Some of the famous preparations are Awadhi (Lucknow style) biryani, Hyderabadi biryani, Arcot biryani, Thalassery/Malabar biryani, Calcutta biryani, Dindigul biryani, Bombay biryani, Sindhi biryani to name a few; but the list is endless… The different styles of this dish is not limited to India; there are many variations that can be found across the globe and some of the famous, must-try ones include Iranian biryani, Idiyappam biryani (Srilanka), Indonesian biryani, Burmese biryani, Malaysian biryani, Mauritian biryani and Kashmiri Yakhni biryani.
So what is a biryani?
Not an easy one to answer but in a nutshell, a biryani is a rice preparation in which the rice is lightly fried or roasted in ghee and cooked using fragrant spices, and then mixed with the meat (marinated and cooked separately as a thick gravy with spices). The two are then bought together by layering and slow heat is applied to completely cook the dish. Traditionally only lamb was used to make biryani, but today all types of meat, seafood and even vegetables are used in preparing the dish.
Indian biryanis can be broadly classified into two types; kutchi (raw) biryani and pukki (cooked) biryani. In kutchi biryani, raw rice is added (not fried or roasted in ghee) to raw or half-cooked meat which has been marinated in a spice paste and the combination is cooked together. In the pukki style, the rice is first roasted in ghee and cooked with spices, layered with cooked meat and then finished off by applying slow heat. These are the two competing styles of preparations, the most famous examples of kutchi being the Hyderabadi and Arcot style biryanis, while Awadhi and Malabar biryani are of the pukki variety.
This recipe is one of the lesser-known styles but a simple, delicious and flavoursome preparation.
4 cups Basmati/long grained rice, washed, soaked and drained
8-10 chicken legs/drumsticks
6 large red onions, sliced
2 large potatoes, sliced
2 tsp garlic paste
3 tomatoes, chopped
3 tsp roasted cumin powder
3 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 inch piece ginger, cut into thin strips
1 cup yoghurt/curd
Salt for seasoning
A few drops of Kewra essence
1 tbsp garam masala
Heat enough oil in a pan to deep fry half of the onion slices till golden-brown, drain on absorbent paper and keep aside. Deep-fry the potatoes in the same oil till light brown, drain and keep aside.
Heat 4-5 tbsp oil in another deep pan, add the remaining onions and garlic paste. Saute on medium heat till the onions have turned translucent and light brown. Add the tomatoes and sauté again till the oil clears, and then add the cumin powder, chilli powder and turmeric powder. Add the chicken pieces and mix well. Cook on medium heat for 2 minutes.
Add 8 cups of water (2 cups of water for 1 cup of rice), season with salt and bring to boil. Then add the potatoes, ginger strips, curd and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the drained rice and cook on high flame for 5 minutes. Lower the heat and cook for another 10 minutes or till most of the water has been absorbed.
Layer the top of the rice with the fried onions, kewra water and garam masala. Cook covered on low heat till the rice is completely cooked. Mix well just before serving.
Best accompanied with raita/yoghurt dip, pickles and roasted papad.