"It's not much but it's ours"

Saturday, August 27, 2011


My quest to catalogue some of the most popular dishes in Indian restaurants around the world continued this week with an attempt to create the perfect Biryani.

It’s no easy matter as this glorious dish, another gift of the Moghuls to Indian cuisine, is the subject of fierce debate throughout India. The arguments rage not only about how it is made, but also about what ingredients it should contain.
The only thing that people can all seem to agree on is that it is a combination of rice, spices and meat or vegetables, but that’s about as far as the consensus goes.

There are dozens of different versions of Biryani, but perhaps the three most famous are those found in Hyderabad, Lucknow and Kolkata. The Hyderabadi version is made using raw meat (usually goat) marinated in yoghurt & spices and raw rice. These are cooked in a pot with a tight fitting lid, sealed with a wheat flour rim, until the juices from the meat cook the rice. It is, I believe, also known as a “Dum” or steamed Biryani. I wonder if the word “Dum” has the same root as the French word “Daube” a stew that is cooked in a similar fashion, with a sealed pot. Anyone?

The Lucknow Biryani is made using meat and rice that have been cooked already and are then combined to make the final dish, while the Kolkata version was traditionally a poor man’s dish that replaced the meat with chunks of potato.

They are all terrific, so I looked to all of them for the inspiration for my "perfect" recipe. Goat is not that easy to find in LA LA Land, so I used lamb instead. You could also use chicken. I chose cut up lamb shanks and also added some extra lamb bones, to add extra flavour and to give me some marrow sucking action in the final dish.

The key to a perfect Biryani is to have the meat cooked until tender without over cooking the rice. I have found that par boiling the rice (some with whole spices and some with the same spices and a little saffron) and partially pre-cooking the meat, is not only a fool proof way of achieving this this, but pre-cooking the lamb and its marinade also produces a lot of cooking liquid that you can also use for the sauce as you are layering rice, meat and fried onions in your Biryani pan.

Anyway, do give it a go. It is laborious rather than difficult, but the end result is 100% worth the effort involved.

Oh, and don't forget to suck on those lamb bones, or there will be Hell to pay.

2 Cups Basmati Rice
2 lbs Lamb (Lamb shanks cut into chunks and some extra lamb bones)
2 large White Onions (sliced thinly)
4 Green Chiles (Deseeded)
2 Inches Fresh Ginger (Peeled and chopped)
5 Cloves Fresh Garlic (Peeled)
½ Cup Yoghurt
1 Cinnamon Stick
6 Cloves
6 Green Cardamom Pods
2 Bay Leaves
1 Pinch Saffron
1Tsp Ground Coriander
1Tsp Ground Cumin
1Tsp Ground Turmeric
1Tsp Red Chili Powder
1Tsp Salt
1Tsp Sugar

Blend the green chili, ginger and garlic to a paste with a little salt and water.

Place the lamb in a bowl and add the ground spices, the salt & sugar, the ginger/chili/garlic paste and the yoghurt.

Massage these well into the meat. Cover with cling film and allow to sit in the marinade for at least three hours.

Slice the onions as thinly as possible and fry in oil until golden and crisp.

Drain the onions on kitchen paper and allow to cool.

Take two thirds of the rice and place in a pan with 3 cloves, 1 bay leaf, ½ the cinnamon stick and 3 cardamom pods.

Add twice the volume of water and par boil for 15 minutes on a low heat. The rice should still have a crunch when you bite into a grain.

Do the same with the remaining rice, adding the remaining spices and also the pinch of saffron. This will give the rice a pink/orange colour.

Drain the two rices and allow to cool.

Combine them to give you two tone rice.

After three or more hours, place the lamb and its marinade in a large covered pan and cook on a gentle heat for 45mins.

Remove the lamb from the pan and reduce the cooking liquid it has produced by half.

Take a deep oven proof casserole dish or saucepan and place a layer or rice on the bottom.

Place a handful of onions on top of that and then a ladle full of the lamb cooking liquid.

Place a layer of meat on top of this and cover completely with rice.
Repeat this process until you reach within an inch or so of the top of the pan, finishing with a layer of rice and sauce.

Traditionally a “Dum” Biryani pot would have been sealed with a pastry rim to stop steam escaping. If you have a tight fitting lid, you will not need to do this. I did it anyway.

Preheat your oven to 350F/175C and bake the Biryani for 45mins to 1 hour.
Serve with your favourite Indian bread and a raita or plain yoghurt.

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Blogger Kalyan Karmakar said...

Cooking biryani is a Herculean task. Us lesser mortals prefer to just eat it.

But you are right Simon, the polemics of biryani divide India like nothing else does.

btw the cal biryani has 'less' of meat with potatoes filling in

Sunday, August 28, 2011 8:43:00 am  
Blogger Gaurav said...


You rightly said that there is much debate over what the RIGHT way to make biryani is. By and large, you recipe is perfect. Allow me to suggest 2 small changes.

1. 3 hours is too little time for the marinade to work its magic, even if you qualify it with "at least". Especially if you're using shanks (something like chicken breasts would do okay in 3 hrs). I'd suggest at least 10 hours/overnight if the meat has to have the TRUE biryani kick.

2. Before putting the lamb in for cooking, I'd suggest sauteeing 1 medium onion (finely chopped) until it starts browning. then add the marinated lamb or whatever meat you have. I have experimented with the boryani dozens of times, with and without sauteing the onions and trust me, the sauted onions enhance the flavor manifold.

Sunday, August 28, 2011 9:05:00 am  
Blogger Kavey said...

Anyone failing to suck the bone marrow out should not be allowed to enjoy this dish! ;)

Sunday, August 28, 2011 9:49:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simon, as always - love your post. I'm a huge fan of Biryanis & you are right about the different versions.

The Calcutta/Kolkata Biryani does have meat (Chicken or Goat) but also potatoes. I've grown up eating that version and love it in the same way I love the Hyderabadi version and the Pakistani version etc. I've heard great things about the version from Lukhnow but yet to try it.

It's a never ending quest for me to keep researching for various revcipes and over the year I've collected a few different recipes of Biryanis.

Found this excellent short article on Biryanis written by Vir Sanghvi - a well known food writer.

Here it is -



Tuesday, August 30, 2011 4:50:00 am  
Blogger Ian Burns said...

Re Dum/daube
Nice theory, but obviously the languages forked way before the emergence of a culinary jargon in either branch. Which would mean that even if the words were from the same root, you would have to put it down to coincidence rather any shared archaic heritage.

Thursday, September 01, 2011 9:09:00 am  
Blogger Ari said...

I have JUST been ranting about how I hate Indian subcontinent 'dinner party' cooking and much prefer the every day stuff blah blah blah ( if you're interested) but these posts I found relating to lamb biryani and korma (the two main 'dinner party' dishes I've been used to eating whilst growing up) mean I've reconsidered! I think perhaps I've conflated the taste of the food with the generally very boring experience that was my parents' friends' dinner parties and so I should give these dishes another go.

My mother's (Bengali) variation on biryani involves braising the lamb in the spices and yoghurt until it's cooked and frying the onions separately. The she just brings rice to a boil in a separate pan, transfers the pieces of meat to a bowl and pours the rice and water into the pot with all the lamb spices in it until the rice is cooked. Once cooked, she combines the lamb, rice and fried onions. I'll be having a go at your recipe on Wednesday and perhaps converting her.

Monday, September 05, 2011 7:45:00 pm  
Anonymous evidenta contabila said...

Hmmm this recipe looks so delicious and nice and i think that fits perfect with my taste and in my opinion is a very easy recipe, so i think i will try it. Thanks for sharing.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011 4:49:00 pm  
Blogger abhijit said...

Hi, There are a few more versions of the Biryani apart from the ones u have listed. there is a killer Kerela style biryani and my personal fav is the ones that the Bohri's serve during their weddings... its non greasy and very fragnant

Monday, December 05, 2011 11:22:00 am  

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