I have been thinking a lot about biryani these days. While I never grew up eating it at home, it’s what I make every time I host. I served this chicken biryani at the first two supper clubs I hosted and am pretty comfortable making it now. The biryani I make is ‘kachi biryani’ where you cook the rice and meat separately, and steam them together at the end. I’m not particularly snooty when it comes to food and find that while people can be quite picky about biryani, given how democratic and versatile the dish is, sometimes you don’t need to overcomplicate it. That’s why I love this recipe.
I first made it in DC a few months ago and immediately wondered why it took me so long to jump on the prawn biryani train? As far as biryanis go, this one is pretty easy to make and can feed a crowd. The recipe below has been adapted from Sameen Rushdie’s Indian Cookery - I know, I know, I have been talking about this book ad nauseam but for anyone who likes to cook Pakistani and North Indian food, it’s the one cookbook to get. It covers a wide variety of classics and provides several fantastic sample menus in the beginning of the book. Long story short, buy the book! It’s amazing.
I hope you enjoy the recipe and dish as much as I do.
- Bring a large pot of water (minimum of about 4 quart) to a rolling boil. Bring to a simmer and add small and large cardamom, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and salt (I add about 1 tbsp).
- Add rice and cook on low heat for not more than 5 - 7 minutes. Once the rice is half-cooked, immediately drain it into a colander* (See Cooking Notes for how I sequence this step).
- Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot. Once it begins to shimmer, brown onions on medium-low heat for 10 - 15 minutes till they color evenly (medium to deep brown). Traditionally in a biryani, you are supposed to brown onions for close to half an hour on low heat. For that, you require a very heavy-bottomed pan that allows you to brown them without burning them. Since I use a simple stainless steel stockpot, I stick to about 10 minutes.
- Add a little bit of salt (I add about ½ tsp at this stage).
- Add crushed ginger and garlic and stir for roughly 30 seconds – 1 minute. Make sure they don’t burn.
- Add cumin powder, coriander powder, red chilli flakes and turmeric powder** (see Cooking Notes on best practice). Do a taste test and if you want to add more salt, do it now (I add another ½ tsp here). Stir for roughly a minute or two till they stop smelling raw. Deglaze the pan with a splash of water if needed.
- Increase heat and add chopped tomatoes. Stir continuously till the tomatoes become soft and break down, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add prawn and stir on high heat for about 5-7 minutes till it’s fully cooked.
- Add chopped green chilli and cilantro. Remove from heat.
- In a separate stockpot, add half of the cooked rice. If you are using saffron, lightly dry-roast the saffron threads in an empty frying pan and then crumble a into a little bit of hot milk or water. Pour half of it on the rice and give a quick stir to spread the color. Rushdie also adds some butter at this stage.
- Put the prawns on the bed of rice and cover with layer of remaining rice. Pour the rest of the saffron on top of the rice and stir gently without disturbing the prawn masala.
- To put the biryani on ‘dum’, turn the heat up and then, dial it to the lowest point. Tightly wrap the lid with a cotton cloth and cover the biryani with it for about 10 minutes.
- Once ready, gently mix the prawn and rice (taking special care to not break the rice) and place in large serving platter. Garnish with fresh cilantro and chilies.
*Traditionally, you are always told to place the rice and water in the pot and bring to a boil at the same time. I prefer to bring the water to a boil first and then carefully add the rice in with a slotted spoon. This takes some of the guess work away from the rice; reducing the risk of it becoming mushy. I also bring the water to a boil and let it simmer while I prepare the prawn masala. Once I’m done preparing the masala, that’s when I add the rice and let it cook. This cuts down on cooking time and helps me put the rice on dum while it’s still hot.
**When using multiple spices, it’s best practice to add them to a small plate or bowl and set aside. That way you are not scrambling to find and measure them when it’s time to add them.