Tender chicken in a richly spiced sauce, layered up with fragrant, flavour-packed rice and topped with saffron and thinly sliced fried onion.
Chicken Biryani is one of those special dishes that gets passed down through generations. Second helpings are a must!
Some recipes are a case of throwing it all in a pan for an easy dinner (one pot chicken and pasta is brilliant on those busy week nights), but sometimes it's almost meditative to take some time and put together a food creation that's made with love and care.
This biryani is one of those dishes (and yes, we do dirty a few dishes along the way...).
Made of several layers, it goes into the pan like this:
- Marinated chicken
- Fresh herbs
- Fragrantly spiced rice
- A little saffron-infused milk
- A good drizzle of melted ghee
- Some beautifully browned fried onions
- And last but not least, a handful of toasted almonds.
This is a Hyderabadi biryani - using the dum method of cooking - which involves letting the ingredients in the dish 'breathe' in its own aroma to make it more flavourful. In this case the flavourful chicken at the bottom of the dish cooks and releases steam and aromas into the rice.
What do we need?
There are a lot of ingredients that go into a biryani, so I'm not going to list them all here (check out the recipe card at the bottom of the post for that). I do use a lot of spices, which makes the chicken marinade intensely flavourful.
One of the spices I do want to mention though is Asafoetida (<--affiliate link), also known as hing. This is a spice used in some Indian dishes. It adds a deeper savoury flavour, like onion or garlic to a dish. You only need a little - I use ¼ tsp (too much is overpowering). If you can't get hold of any, or if you're unlikely to use it for anything else, then don't worry, it can be left out. There are plenty of spices already in the dish to give it a fantastic flavour.
How to make this biryani
***Full recipe with detailed steps in the recipe card at the end of this post.***
- First, we marinate the chicken thighs in spices, natural yogurt, oil, ginger, garlic, tomato puree (paste) chopped chillies, salt and lemon juice. We want that to marinate for at least 2 hours for the best flavour.
- Next we parboil the basmati rice in plenty of salted water and a few aromatics. Then drain it.
- We also fry off 2 sliced onions in oil until fragrant and dark brown.
- Add the marinated chicken to a large cast-iron pan with a splash of water and cook for a few minutes to heat up the sauce and lightly seal the chicken.
- Sprinkle on chopped coriander (cilantro) and mint.
- Mix together a little saffron and milk and leave for a minute or two.
- Add the par-cooked rice to the pan on top of the chicken and drizzle over the saffron/milk mixture plus some melted ghee.
- Top the rice with the fried onions and toasted flaked onions.
- Wait until steams starts to rise from the pan, then place a lid on, lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes.
Turn off the heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Then sprinkle on some freshly chopped coriander (cilantro).
When you scoop it out (be sure to scoop it right from the bottom to get all the layers) you should find the outside of the chicken that was touching the base of the pan is a tiny bit crisp. The interior should still be juicy though. Personally I think that slight crispness adds even more flavour.
Why use chicken thighs?
Chicken thighs can take the direct heat from sitting at the bottom of the pan without drying out.
I prefer to use boneless and skinless chicken thighs, but you could use bone-in thighs if you prefer. Just cook the whole dish for about 5 minutes longer if you do.
Why are you adding salt to the rice?
A fair amount of the salt is drained off with the water from cooking the rice. The remaining salt really enhances the flavour of the whole dish. That salty taste mellows during the cooking with the chicken and disperses to flavour the rest of the ingredients.
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Chicken Biryani Recipe
Chicken and Marinade
- 575 g (1 ¼ lbs) chicken thigh fillets - chopped in half
- 180 ml (¾ cup) natural yoghurt - full fat
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 cloves garlic - minced
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- ¼ tsp asafoetida - *(affiliate link) see note below
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp ground fenugreek
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cumin
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 3 cardamom pods
- 2 tsp mild chilli powder - go for medium or hot if you like it really spicy
- 2 mild green chillies - roughly chopped
- 1 ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1.5 litres water
- 2 tsp salt
- 5 cloves
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cardamom pods
- 450 g 2 ¼ cups white basmati rice
Crispy fried onions:
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 onions - peeled and sliced
- 3 tbsp water
- 3 tbsp freshly chopped coriander - cilantro
- 1 tbsp freshly chopped mint leaves
- 1 tsp saffron threads
- 3 tbsp milk
- 3 tbsp ghee - melted (or use unsalted butter)
- 2 tbsp toasted flaked almonds
- Natural Yogurt
- Freshly chopped coriander - cilantro
- Place the chicken in a bowl with the all of the marinade ingredients.
- Stir together to coat, then cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
- For the rice, heat the water in a saucepan along with the salt, cloves, cumin seeds, bay leaves and cardamom pods until boiling.
- Add the rice, stir once, bring back to the boil and simmer (no lid) for 5 minutes.
- Drain the rice in a sieve.
- Now make the fried onions. Heat the 4 tbsp oil over a medium heat in a large cast iron pan.
- Add the sliced onions, and cook for around 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dark brown. Be careful not to burn them, as they will taste bitter. Note - we're going to be using the same cast iron pan to cook the biryani, so if you're worried the onions are catching on the pan (which may effect the taste of the biryani), you can fry them in a separate frying pan if you prefer.
- Scoop the onions out of the pan using a slotted spoon and place in a bowl for later.
- Now take the marinated chicken out of the refrigerator and add to the pan with the oil from the onions. Stir in 3 tbsp of water.
- Cook over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring a couple of times, to just very lightly seal the chicken.
- Now place the 3 tbsp of chopped coriander (cilantro) and 1 tbsp of chopped mint on top of the chicken.
- Next spoon the rice on top of the chicken and flatten it out slightly.
- Mix together the saffron and milk and let it sit for a minute, then drizzle the mixture over the rice, followed by the melted ghee.
- Spoon on the fried onions and toasted almonds.
- Place a lid on the pan, but allow just a tiny gap.
- As soon as you see steam coming from the gap, place the lid on fully and turn the heat down to low and cook for 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Top with a little more fresh coriander if desired and serve.
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