Chicken biryani or biryani of any kind, is always a dish for a special occasion. Layers of intoxicating aroma and flavour from the rice, the curry, aromatics and spices, it’s definitely something to be celebrated.
Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
Table of contents
- Chicken Biryani Recipe
- How to cook Chicken Biryani at Home
- Types of Biryani
- Dum Biryani or Dum Style Biryani
- What Pot to use for Chicken Biryani
- How to Serve this Chicken Biryani
- More Festive Recipes
Chicken Biryani Recipe
I’m not going to lie, it does take a bit of an effort and there is a long list of ingredients. It is, after all, something we cook for special occasions. And special occasions call for a little effort, no?
Just get everything ready, follow the steps, and you’ll see, it’s not complicated at all.
I know there are lots of easy biryani recipes out there, and those cooked in instant pots and pressure cookers. But this is not one of them!
Maybe we’ll do those when this blog is a couple of years old. I promised some readers that I would do some Deepavali (Diwali) recipes, and here I am, finally getting to it, a little later than I had planned.
There are basically 3 parts to cooking today’s chicken biryani:
- cooking the chicken curry
- parboiling the rice
- layering everything and steaming
I walk you through it with photos. Each part above and its ingredients are clearly broken down in the recipe card below, to make it easier for you to follow.
How to cook Chicken Biryani at Home
These are the steps involved in the recipe:
- Marinate the chicken – I prefer this done the night before for maximum flavour.
- Prep work – chopping and soaking saffron.
- Parboil the rice and drain.
- Cook the chicken curry with the spices and marinated chicken.
- Caramelise some onions with oil and ghee – 20 minutes, optional step, can be replaced with shop bought crispy fried shallots.
- Layer the rice and dry-ish chicken curry and steam the whole lot for 20 minutes.
- Leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
It’s perfectly doable, isn’t it?
Types of Biryani
As this is my first biryani article on SMR, here’s a little background. If you’re not bothered about this, skip down to the ingredients.
Many food historians believe that biryanis are a Persian legacy via the Moghuls. I talk a little about the Moghul influence on the food of the Indian subcontinent on the Kashmiri page on LinsFood.
While there are many regional types of biryanis, this South Asian masterpiece can be divided into 2 distinct types, in the way that the biryani itself is cooked: kacchi and pukki.
The word kacchi means raw (the feminine form of kaccha). So in this version, the rice and the meat are layered raw, sealed in a pot and cooked slowly over a low flame.
Naturally, for novices, this could be a slightly daunting affair as one can easily overcook the rice, ending up with a stodgy mess.
I’m a bigger fan of briyanis cooked this way, as I find the rice is better able to absorb the flavours. But that’s a post for another day!
So pakki means cooked (the feminine form of the word pakka). And this is the version we’ll be employing today for our chicken biryani. Essentially, the meat is fully cooked in the form of a dry curry and the rice is also parboiled.
These are then layered and steamed in a sealed pot, again on a low flame, but not as long as in the kacchi biryani.
Dum Biryani or Dum Style Biryani
Dum Biryani or dum style simply refers to the steaming method of cooking, and includes biryanis and all sorts of dishes. It is also referred to as dum phukt.
In Hindi, dum means to breathe and phukt means to cook. Food cooked this way (not just biryanis, curries too) is placed in a heavy bottomed pot, sealed with dough, then slow cooked over a low flame, with plenty of steam in the pot. This allows the flavours to be released slowly and fully absorbed.
In the absence of dough (something I’ll do in later biryani posts), the tradition is to wrap your lid in a tea towel to ensure a tight fit and also to absorb extra moisture. I employ this tea towel method when cooking pilau and Persian rice dishes, but not when cooking biryani. This is because I want my biryani moist, and I don’t want that tea towel to absorb the steam in the pot. So when cooking biryani, when you don’t want the contents of your pot to dry out, you don’t want to use a tea towel. Aluminium foil will work better.
Chicken Biryani Ingredients
The ingredients for cooking an authentic chicken biryani are pretty easy to find. I use the term authentic fairly loosely here, as there are countless regional and familial variations to this beloved South Asian rice dish.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the ingredients that we need to pay attention to:
You want basmati rice to cook a great chicken biryani. Its light floral aroma, along with its fluffy-when-cooked nature makes it the perfect choice for slow cooking. Jasmine rice will produce a slightly stodgy affair, with its starchier body.
Aged basmati rice is the best there is, and you will be able to recognise it from its golden colour as well as its heightened perfume.
However, it is also more expensive, so get the best that you can afford.
To Soak Basmati or Not?
Over the years, I’ve had countless SOS messages about basmati rice that has fallen apart upon cooking various dishes. The culprit here is the soaking of the rice.
I stopped soaking basmati rice years ago, and have always advised my students and readers to do the same. Let me tell you why.
Many of us outside the Indian subcontinent don’t have access to top class, aged basmati rice. And when we do, it’s phenomenally expensive. The basmati rice we do get isn’t aged as much, and doesn’t need and doesn’t want soaking.
So if you want your rice to maintain its integrity and not fall apart upon cooking, don’t pre soak the rice.
Unless I’m roasting a whole chicken, I always buy chicken portions to cook at home. I find this easier and more user friendly. It’s up to you what portions to use. Use chicken breast if you prefer, but as I find them rather bland, I tend to go for drumsticks, legs and chicken thighs.
You definitely want some of your chicken on the bone, as bones always give additional depth of flavour to curries and stews. And that will transfer over to the chicken biryani as a whole.
Spices and Aromatics
We use both ground and whole spices in our chicken biryani. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.
In the last post, I shared with you the homemade biryani masala I use when cooking biryanis and even pulaos. It’s a very easy spice mix to make, and can even be used as garam masala.
You don’t have to make this biryani masala, but if you have the time and inclination, I urge you to make it. It’s highly aromatic and your biryani will thank you for it.
Use shop bought garam masala, if you prefer, but try and stay away from any shop bought boxed biryani spice mixes. Because this recipe is all about making chicken biryani from scratch.
Kashmiri Chilli Powder
Our chicken biryani isn’t going to be spicy. So the chilli powder we use will have to be mild. Well, unless you want a spicy biryani, that is.
Traditionally, we’d use Kashmiri chilli powder because as you can read in this article on LinsFood, Kashmiri chillies are super mild, grown for their vibrant red colour, and not their heat. Can’t get genuine Kashmiri chilli powder? Use the mildest red chilli powder you can find.
How to tell if your Kashmiri chilli powder is the real deal? Taste it. If it’s spicy, it’s not. It should only have a slight hint, milder than a jalapeño.
We use both green and black cardamom pods in our chicken biryani today. Black cardamom is much bigger than the common green, and has a smoky flavour. It adds depth to curries and spice mixes.
If you can’t get it, just leave it out.
Indian Bay Leaves (Tej Patta)
Indian bay leaves, as I explain in the biryani masala post, is a completely different herb from the Mediterranean one. It has an elongated shape and is spicy in terms of aroma, instead of herbal like the common bay.
So one is not a substitute for the other.
However, by all means, use regular bay leaf for the beautiful flavour it imparts. I do, on the odd occasion when I run out of tej patta.
Saffron, while not essential when cooking biryani, gives it a wonderful depth of flavour and aroma. Because we sprinkle the saffron liquid all over our rice, it also imparts an additional layer of colour.
So I would definitely encourage you to use it. Why use food colouring?
Dried Sour Plums
Now I know you’re probably thinking prunes. Prunus bokharensis are from Asia. The dried version, called alu bukhara are used in Persian, Central Asian and Pakistani cooking. And they tart, unlike prunes, which are sweet.
This is definitely something I picked up once I came to the UK. If you’ve been buying your biryani mixes, you might have come across the ones labelled Sind Biryani (or Sindh). These would definitely contain one or two of these dried plums. And in case you’re wondering, Sindh is a province in Pakistan.
These dried plums add another delicious layer of flavour to our chicken biryani, and I love them. But do be careful, as they are a stone fruit, and you might want to lose that stone before adding to your biryani, if you are concerned about choking.
I don’t cook biryanis without caramelised onions. They are a weakness of mine, and I love them with just about anything: rice, sandwiches, burgers, salads, pizzas, soups and so much more!
The caramel sweetness they impart is yet another delicious part to your biryani, and the perfect foil to spice. I spend about 20-30 minutes making them while the biryani chicken curry is cooking. If you don’t fancy them, use shop bought crispy fried shallots or onions.
Ginger Garlic Paste
Feel free to use shop bought garlic and ginger paste if that’s what you always do. I tend to just blitz them to use when I actually need them, just like my mum and granny used to.
To make your own, you just need roughly the same weight of garlic as ginger, and just pound or chop to a paste, with some water. That’s it. About 2 medium cloves garlic to 2.5 cm (1 inch) ginger.
What Pot to use for Chicken Biryani
You can use any deep, heavy bottomed pot or a quality dutch oven. The idea is to allow the ingredients to steam away without the rice burning at the bottom of the pot.
If you don’t have a saucepan with a heavy base, then place your pot on a diffuser or even a flat griddle.
If you are concerned that your rice will burn at the base, you can always start with your chicken curry as the first layer.
How to Serve this Chicken Biryani
Biryanis are your ultimate one pot meals. If you are making a meat based biryani like today’s, you’ve got your carbs and protein already. So all you need is a light green salad and raita to make it even more of a complete meal.
Yoghurt is a traditional accompaniment to savoury dishes in many cultures, and this is certainly true in India and Pakistan. The cooling nature of yoghurt provides the perfect balance to the spice (not heat) of this chicken biryani.
Finally, have some lemon wedges on the side, so everyone can have some freshly squeezed lemon juice with their portions. Oh, and some fresh green chillies are always good too.
Basic Raita Recipe
Until I get some raita recipes on SMR, here’s a basic and easy raita.
Tip out your yoghurt into a bowl, and add a pinch of salt, a little chopped up cucumber, green chillies and a small shallot. If you want, you could also dry roast a pinch of cumin seeds in a small frying pan, for 30 seconds on medium-low heat, and add this to the yoghurt.
Mix well and chill until needed.
Over on LinsFood, I have a couple of Persian yoghurt dips that would be perfect served with this chicken biryani:
If this is your first time cooking biryani, don’t sweat it. Just get everything ready, and follow the steps in the recipe card below. Practice makes perfect, and if your chicken biryani isn’t perfect this time, it doesn’t matter, because it will still be delicious!
So, shall we get cooking?
If you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! Thank you!
And if you make the recipe, share it on Instagram or Facebook and tag me @azlinbloor, and hashtag it #linsfood
More Festive Recipes
Chicken Biryani Recipe
For Marinating the Chicken
- 1 kg chicken portions (I used a mix of drumsticks and thighs)
- 1 tsp salt
- 100 g thick natural yoghurt (Greek style is good)
- 2 Tbsp biryani masala
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder or any mild chilli powder
- 1 Tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
For Cooking the Chicken Curry (to layer the Biryani)
- 2 Tbsp ghee
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 large brown onion
- 4 medium cloves garlic
- 5 cm ginger
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 5 dried plums
- 1 small handful fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
- 125 ml water
- 2 mild green chillies (we'll be leaving these whole)
- 1 tsp salt
Whole Spices (for the Chicken Curry)
- 2 dried Indian bay leaves or regular (even though they are not substitutes, read the post above)
- 1 cinnamon stick (about 7.5 cm/3 inches long)
- 5 cloves
- 5 green cardamoms
- 1 black cardamom
- 2 star anise
For Parboiling the Rice
- 500 g basmati rice
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 3 pandan leaves leave out if unavailable
- 1 large saucepan of water
For Layering and Steaming the Biryani
- 1 pinch saffron (generous pinch – about 30 pistils)
- 60 ml evaporated milk or fresh milk or even just water
- 1 tsp ghee for greasing
- 1 tsp biryani masala
- caramelised onions (see recipe below), replace this with shop bought crispy fried shallots, if you like
- 1 lemon
- 10 stalks fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) more or less is fine
- 5 stalks fresh mint leaves
- 6 green chillies optional
- 2 large brown onions
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp ghee (or just use all oil)
- 60 ml water
Let's start with Marinating the Chicken (preferably overnight, or at least 2 hours)
- Place all the chicken portions into a large bowl and follow with all the marinade ingredients.
Mix everything up and rub the marinade all over the chicken, getting under the skin. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge to marinate overnight or for at least 2 hours. If marinating for 2 hours, leave it on the counter. Remember to take the chicken out of the fridge 30 minutes before you start cooking the next day.
Biryani Prep Work (Next Day or at the end of Marinating Time)
- If your chicken is marinating in the fridge, now's the time to get it out to come to room temperature.
We have a total of 3 large onions. Peel all three onions. Dice one (chop it, but not too finely, see image) for the chicken curry. Slice the other 2 in rings for caramelising.
- Finely chop the garlic and ginger, or place them in a chopper and blitz to a paste with a little water.
Slice the lemon into thin rounds. You should aim for at least 6 slices.
Chop the tomatoes into little pieces. And finely chop all the herbs and set aside separately.
Soak the Saffron
- Heat the milk up in a microwave for 30 seconds.
Crumble the saffron into the milk, and leave until needed.
Cook the Chicken Curry
Heat the oil and ghee in a large saucepan and fry the whole spices over medium-low heat for 30 seconds. So that will be the bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, both cardamoms and star anise.
Add the onions, garlic and ginger and fry, stirring for 2 minutes.
Tip the marinated chicken in, and stir well to coat the chicken with the aromatic fat.
Add the tomatoes and chopped coriander leaves (cilantro) and stir well.
Pour the water in, along the side of the saucepan. Add salt and drop the green chillies in. Stir to mix. Bring everything to a boil, then, cover, reduce the heat to its lowest setting and leave to simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the chicken is completely cooked. The time will depend on the size and what cut of chicken you have. On the bone will take longer, so you will need 45 minutes. If you have large chicken legs, you may even need 1 hour. While the curry is cooking, we'll be parboiling the rice and caramelising the onions.
Stir the chicken curry halfway through. If your curry is getting too dry, add a splash of water. We want our curry to be dry-ish, with perhaps a few tablespoons of liquid. Roughly, a little more or less doesn't matter. When done, take it off the heat.
Parboil the Rice
Bring a large saucepan of water to boil, with 2 Tbsp of salt. Tie the pandan leaves up and drop into the saucepan.
Rinse the rice 2-3 times until the water runs a little clear. This doesn't ever have to be totally clear. When the water is boiling, tip all the rice into it. Bring it back to a boil on high heat, then lower to medium and cook for 5 minutes.
Drain and set aside until needed.
Let's Caramelise the Onions (feel free to skip and use shop bought fried onions)
- We'll be doing this while the chicken curry is cooking, after parboiling the rice. Heat the ghee and oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Twirl it around to mix the two fats.
Add the onions and mix well, coating the onions in the fat. Once the onions have heated through, after about 2 minutes, turn the heat down to low.
Cook the onions for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, at which time, the onions will be a light golden colour and very soft.
Add half the water and continue cooking for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently. At this time, you onions will be lightly caramelised, and are delicious,. You can stop here, or add the rest of the water and continue cooking for 10 more minutes, to give you onions that are darker and sweeter. When done, take it off the heat and set aside for layering.
Layering and Steaming the Biryani
- Get a large heavy based pot (read the post above about biryani pots) and lightly grease it with 1 tsp of ghee. Now you decide how many layers you'd like to do: 3 or 5. This will depend on how much you are cooking and the width of your pot. If your pot is about 30cm across, today's recipe will allow you to layer 5 times. So that's rice, chicken, rice, chicken, rice, and all the other bits and pieces in between. We will be seasoning/flavouring all the rice layers. I'm using a 28 cm Le Creuset Dutch oven (affiliate link) and managed to just get 5 layers. I think a deep 22 – 26 cm pot will be perfect for the amount here.
After greasing the pot, spread a third of the rice all over. Drizzle about a third of the saffron milk (about 1 Tbsp) all over. Sprinkle a little of the biryani masala (or garam masala). Follow this with about a third of the caramelised onions and the chopped up coriander leaves and mint. Finish with 2 lemon rounds and 2 green chillies. If you are doing 3 layers of rice, all these seasoning ingredients want to be roughly divided into 3. If you are doing 2 layers of rice, then just divide them by half.
- Follow this first rice layer with half the chicken curry. I forgot to take a picture of this step!
- Top this first layer of chicken with another third of the rice, and season again. So that's another Tbsp of saffron milk, a generous pinch of masala, another third of caramelised onions, coriander and mint leaves, 2 lemon rounds and 2 green chillies. And we'll top this second layer of rice with the rest of the dry chicken curry. Apologies for the missing picture again.
And now, the final layer of rice. We'll season this final layer as we've been doing: the rest of the saffron milk, the biryani masala, caramelised onions, chopped herbs, green chillies and lemon rounds.
- Cover your pot with a well fitting lid and place it over a medium flame. Let it heat up for 5 minutes to create steam within the pot. Now reduce the heat to its lowest setting and steam for 20 minutes. When done, take it off the heat and leave to rest for another 10 minutes. Do not take the lid off until these 10 minutes are up, as the steaming will continue.
To dish up, lightly lift the rice up with a rice paddle like these ones (affiliate link) and place on a serving dish. This is to stop us mixing up the various parts of the biryani and squashing and breaking the rice. A saucer can also be used. Serve as mentioned above. ps: the rice paddles above are my favourite ones as they have little raised dots, so the rice just glides off them.