Chicken Biryani

November 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

Biryani is a common dish throughout South Asia, and there are many variations of it. It’s usually a “special occasion” food since it can take a lot of time (and love!) to make.

My aunt Ashu sent me this yummy recipe for a simpler version of biryani; since this is my first attempt at making the dish, simple was the way to go ūüôā I’ve been wanting to try it for a while, but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Part of my hesitation was that I could never quite make the decision to splurge on saffron. Saffron is a flavorful spice, but seriously expensive. I normally shop at a regular grocery store; they informed me that they stopped carrying saffron since people were stealing it because it was so expensive. Seriously???? Anyway, I had to go to Whole Foods to get some (I figured the gas money to trek out to an Asian market for one ingredient probably wouldn’t be worth it) and for $8 I could probably count the number of saffron threads I got on two hands. ¬†Maybe I’ll start growing crocuses, harvest my own saffron, and become a bajillionaire.

The other problem I ran into was the green chillies. Green chillies I grew up eating were skinny, medium length chilies and I was sure I’d find them here since there is so much delicious, spicy Mexican food. However, here in Northern Mexico there is no shortage of chillies/peppers- but none of them resembled the ones I was looking for. I had my pick of Habanero, Serrano, Jalapeno, etc. etc., but no skinny little familiar green chillies that my parents grow in a pot outside their house. I was relieved to find a can of “whole green chilies” and decided to settle on that. Come game time, I opened this can only to be greeted by a close cousin of the bell pepper, taking a bath in some vinegar. Scratch that plan. I ended up using 3 dried red “chiles del arbol”; if you can find fresh chillies it would be best, as these dried ones did not add enough spice for me.

Bottom line: plan ahead and don’t go grocery shopping for this at the last minute.

If you haven’t had ghee, I strongly suggest trying it. It’s clarified Indian butter and ghee:regular butter::man:Superman. Yes, there is something more delicious than butter. It’s not hard to make, but you can buy it at a lot of grocery stores too these days.

The coconut milk is optional, but I take any opportunity to add coconut products to things. Plus it makes the dish richer and more moist. My aunt also suggests using almond paste which I’m sure would be delicious as well.

This is half of the original recipe since this dish is usually made for larger crowds (larger than 2? Weird).

Serves 4-6


  • 1.5 cups of rice, dry (I used brown jasmine. It’s probably best with basmati rice)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4-1 lb. of chicken, cubed
  • 3/4 cup yogurt
  • 5 green chillies slit or 3 red chillies (more or less depending on your spice tolerance)
  • ~1/2 cup cilantro, chopped + more for garnish
  • ~1/4 cup mint, chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • saffron (While this adds a nice flavor, I’m sure it’s delicious without if you don’t want to splurge on an expensive, rare ingredient)
  • 1/4 cup warm milk
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • ghee, butter, or cooking oil (the more, the tastier, but use your discretion)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cardamom pods (or sub 1/4-1/2 tsp ground cardamom)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 inch of ginger, grated
  • 1/2 medium tomato, diced
  • full fat coconut milk (optional)
  • cashew halves (optional)
  • hard boiled eggs, sliced (optional)
  • raisins (optional)
This dish is traditionally served with raita– yogurt mixed with tomatoes, cucumber, cilantro, and (elusive) green chillies. This recipe is pretty yogurty/moist so I didn’t end up using my raita- but whatever you want!


{rice, water, bay leaf}

Cook the rice with the bay leaf according to the instructions. My aunt had a great suggestion to use plenty of water so the grains can cook more individually and less as a large mass of sticking-together-rice. If you are going to do it this way, make sure you have a strainer with small enough holes so these individually cooked grains cannot escape. While the rice is cooking, marinate the chicken (below).

When the rice is cooked and drained, spread it out so that the grains won’t stick together while the rice patiently waits for the remaining components of the meal. I spread it all out over a large cutting board.

{saffron, milk}

Soak your saffron threads in the warm milk until you are ready to use it.

{chicken, yogurt, chillies, cilantro, mint, salt, turmeric, chili powder}

Mix everything but the chicken together (I did this in the same measuring cup that I measured the yogurt in to save dishes). Add the chicken, mix well, and marinate in the fridge for at least one hour.

{onions, ghee, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, garlic, tomatoes}

Fry your onions in the ghee with the cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom until the onions are translucent and slightly browned. Add your ginger and garlic and stir. Add your tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the raw smell of ginger goes away. Add your chicken and cook, stirring occasionally. Let the mixture cook until the chicken is tender and swimming in a thickish gravy. Preheat the oven to 350¬į.

Layer rice with saffron milk (spooned/drizzled over each layer) and chicken mixture in a casserole dish. This halved recipe fit perfectly in a 2.5QT/2.3L round Corningware dish. I chose the optional steps of also adding coconut milk and ghee to this layering process and was not disappointed. Rice should be your final layer. Bake the dish for about 20 minutes. The original recipe says to bake it until the top is browned, but I  like softer rice so I covered the dish and took it out right at 20 minutes. If you want the top browned, bake uncovered.

If you’d like, you can fry up some onions to garnish the top. I fried them until they were quite brown, then stirred some cashew halves in. My mom slices hard boiled eggs and uses them for a garnish too. My grandma used to put raisins on top as well- if you like savory mixed with sweet you would probably love that variation.


§ 3 Responses to Chicken Biryani

  • Ashu says:

    Maya, the raita normally used with biryani, is curd (yoghurt) flavoured with sliced onions, green chillies, salt and a pinch of sugar.
    Our traditional fmaily raita with tomatoes and cucumber is delicious too.

  • Aunt Ashu says:

    Aunt Ashu, forgot a couple of ingredients – while drizzling with saffron milk, also drizzle over some lemon juice (say a a few drops with each layer) Layering with a few fried (brown and not golden)onions also adds that additional exotica!

    PS: Maya, are yr rice grains a little plump? Or, like you said, maybe you just prefer yr rice softer. i like it soft too, but not in biryani or fried rice.

    • Maya says:

      Thanks Ashu! Plump in the 2nd picture? Maybe because mine was a “saucier” biryani since I was liberal with the coconut milk. And yes- I usually like squishy, moist rice so it probably doesn’t meet the standards of traditional biryani. It may also look different bc I used brown rice instead of white. Thanks for the recipe!

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