The best inadequate description of biryani is that it is a dish of rice, meat and other (variable) ingredients, and that it is delicious. Regional variants and ethnic styles apart, biryani can also be classified by the cooking process. This yields broadly two categories, kachhi (raw/uncooked) and pakki (cooked/prepared).
Kachhi -- most famous variant: Dhaka, Bangladesh -- is prepared by layering marinated meat plus marinade at the bottom of a very well-greased, thick-bottomed dekchi, topping it with a layer of rice, sealing the lid and effectively, slow-roasting the meat, marinade and rice together till the meat is steamed tender, the rice cooked, and both thoroughly seasoned with the rich ghee+marinade.
Pakki is far easier. Cook the meat and rice separately. Mix. Eat.
Random shots of yogurt, sold in clay pots.
I started out trying to make pulao and chicken kosha, but changed my mind after marinating the meat. Consequently, I didn't have some of the spices I would usually put in biryani, notably mace and nutmeg (jayitri and jaiphal) and ghee, but since I do have health problems a mile long, this was probably a good thing.
So here's how you make a heart-friendly biryani [which, as any biryani-lover worth her salt will tell you, is either an oxymoron or a travesty].
NOTE: sometimes, the words and pictures in the recipe won't be at par (see 'health problem' clause above). In such cases, follow the words. Even those refer to a lighter, healthier biryani than traditional ones. ALSO, this recipe is easily adapted for vegetarians by cooking the potatoes like the meat, and leaving them out from the rice, or by cooking chunks of paneer/cottage cheese like the meat.
Ingredients (for two people):
Chicken/mutton -- people prefer it chunky and on the bone, like breast and leg pieces (or drumsticks, for chicken). But here I have de-boned diced meat because, as I said, I started out to make something else.
Potatoes -- potatoes are a Calcutta-biryani speciality, one says added by poor Lucknow-expat Muslim families who could not always afford meat. A deliciously flaky chunk of potato is often the best part of the biryani for me.
Yogurt, two tablespoons per 100 gm of meat. Or really, just add about five. Yogurt's never a bad idea.
Bay leaf, one.
Green chilies plus one or two large dry red chilies (leave out the chilies if you don't like heat. Add half for seasoning).
One medium-sized onion.
Whola garam masala -- cinnamon sticks, three or four. Green/small cardamom, five or six, crushed open. Cloves, a couple, lightly pounded.
Garam masala powder.
Whole cumin and coriander (1:2).
Ghee/sunflower or mustard oil.
Slivered almonds and whole sultanas(optional).
Grated nutmeg and powdered mace (optional).
Soak the rice for at least half an hour in warm water. Paste the cumin and coriander together, then paste the garlic, chilies, and onion, both with a little water. Skin, remove gristle+fat, and thoroughly clean the meat.
Marinate the meat in the pastes, along with the juice of a small lemon and yogurt (preferably strained off the whey). Leave it for at least two hours.
Peel and halve the potatoes. Rub them with a touch of turmeric and salt and shallow-fry them till they take on a light golden colour. Drain and keep aside.
Drain the water carefully from the rice and shake it dry. We spread the wet rice on three or four layers of newspaper next to the window for an hour or so to dry.
This drying is a bit pointless, because immediately after, we boil it. We can do this in two different ways:
- heat four tablespoons of oil -- the rice should be moist and pleasantly greasy when cooked, not dry. If using sunflower oil, feel free to add a little ghee for flavour. Add the whole garam masala and toss till the sweet smell of frying cinnamon rises. The dry fruits should also be added and lightly fried now. Now slowly add the rice and mix it thoroughly with the oil. Add already-fried potatoes. Add water till it's an inch or two above the level of rice.
- heat about six inches of water in a dekhchhi (which is a uniformly wide very large saucepan, with a lid). Now drop in the whole garam masala and bay leaf, and let the water come to boil. Boil for about three or four minutes or till the water changes colour. Now add the fried potatoes, then the rice.
Let the water boil till the rice puffs up and starts jumping slightly. Put the lid on and simmer till the potato is completely tender (do the fork test). If using Method 1, one can pressure-cook the rice to reduce time.
If one likes pretty food, one can dissolve a few strands of saffron in a teaspoon of warm water, then add the water to the dekchi. The rice will take on a lovely light orangish-yellow tint, but not all over.
While the rice is cooking, heat three tablespoons of oil in a wok. When hot, turn the flame down. Carefully raise the meat out of the marinade, scrape some off if needed, and lower it into the oil.
Fry till nicely golden-brown. Now add the marinade, turn flame up to medium. If you have aamchur (powdered raw mango, quite tangy), mace and nutmeg powder, sprinkle half a teaspoon of the former and a couple of pinches of the latter two. Keep stirring and tossing the meat and spices till the oil separates.
The red above is me adding MORE red chilie powder. Anyway, now add either a cup of water, or a cup of whole milk/cream with a tablespoon of water. Cover and simmer, checking every five to see if the gravy is drying out.
Drain the cooked rice and potatoes, preferably using a net/cheesecloth tied around the mouth of the dekchi and upturning it). When the meat is tender and the gravy is reduced but not completely dry, take a large serving bowl and ladle the rice and potatoes into it. Sprinkle ground garam masala on top and mix thoroughly (this can be done in the dekchi too).
Then scoop the gravy and pour over the rice, and mix in very well. Put a piece of meat on each plate, and right on top of it, ladle the rice and potatoes. Serve, if you wish, with hard-boiled eggs that have then been rubbed with turmeric and salt and shallow-fried.
Tuck in :-)