Biryani has been an all time favourite of mine and I cannot say “no” to it at all, no matter what, unless I am sick. I have always loved trying out different kinds of biryani though I relish only a selected few. And one of those is the Zafrani biryani which is a non spicy, light, mild but an exotic version that I and my family really enjoy.
The zafrani biryani has a history of its kind and originated in in the imperial kitchens of the Moghuls. The primary ingredient or the hero of this dish is saffron (which is “zafran” in persian and arabic) and so it’s been named. Though it represents the North Indian cooking style this biryani was cooked and enjoyed in the south of India as well mainly in the city of Hyderabad where it was a favourite of the Nizams and their guests. Made with whole spices, yoghurt, almond paste and flavoured with saffron this biryani has a subtle exotic flavour and intense taste. It feels light, aromatic and so delicious!
1 whole chicken (2 -2.5lbs)
3 1/2 cups long grain basumathi rice
3 black cardamoms
1 bay leaf
a pinch of black cumin seeds
For the Marinade:
1/2 cup hung/greek yoghurt
1 tsp black cumin seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp green cardamom powder
1 1/2 tbs ginger garlic paste
2 tbs vegetable oil
Juice of half a lemon
salt as required
For the Sauce:
3 1/2 medium large onions sliced
1/4 cup or 4 tbs yoghurt
1 star anise
6 green cardamoms
1X2″ cinnamon stick
8-10 small green chillies
1 tbs ginger garlic paste
1/2 a bunch cilantro chopped
1/2 cup mint leaves
15 almonds blanched and ground to a paste
1. De skin, clean, wash and cut the chicken at the joints into 12 pieces, drain, then dry with paper towels. Rub 1 tsp salt and lemon juice and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Rinse the basumathi rice 3 or 4 times till the water is clear and soak in water for up to an hour.
2. Grind together black cumin, cumin and white pepper in a grinder, remove then add to it cardamom powder, ginger garlic paste, thick hung yoghurt, salt, vegetable oil and mix well with a small whisk or spoon. Then rub the chicken pieces with this marinade and marinate for 4 – 6 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
3. Broil the chicken pieces on high for 8-10 minutes on each side or just until they start to get golden not brown.
4. Prepare the sauce. Add the sliced onions to medium hot oil in a pot soon after adding the whole spices(cloves, green cardamom, cinnamon, star anise and just a pinch of black cumin seeds). Stir and fry a bit then turn down the heat to low and continue to fry them till they are soft and translucent.
5. Meanwhile make almond paste by first blanching the almonds and then grinding them in a wet grinder with a little water till fine and smooth.
6. When onions turn soft and translucent, add the ginger garlic paste, green chillies, yoghurt, almond paste and mix well. Now add the broiled chicken pieces to the sauce then a few mint leaves and half of the chopped cilantro. Let it simmer for a while till the sauce thickens a bit and the oil comes on top.
7. Boil at least 6 litres water in a big pot. Add 1 1/2 tbs salt, black cardamoms, black cumin seeds, 1 tsp ghee, then the pre-soaked basumathi rice and cook till al dente that is till it is 3/4th done. When you press a rice grain in between your index finger and thumb the outer part of the rice feels soft but inside it is still gritty and you should see 3 small white granule like spots which tells you that it is just right. Switch off the stove and drain the rice immediately.
8. Transfer the cooked chicken with the gravy to the roaster. Top it with chopped coriander, sprinkle 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and adjust the salt after tasting the curry.
9. Place the roaster in a pre-heated oven (at 375 degrees Fahrenheit) and let it simmer for 2 mins or till it is hot enough. Do not close the lid yet.
10. Meanwhile crush the saffron threads with a mortar and pestle. Add 1 cup of hot water mix well and pour it in a bowl. Add a tbsp of butter to this saffron solution. Take just a ladle of the cooked basumathi rice and mix it with the saffron solution to make coloured saffron rice. Keep it aside.
11. Now transfer the remaining hot cooked basumathi rice to the roaster with the hot chicken sauce.
12. Add the reserved saffron rice on top then put it back in the oven preheated at 400 degrees F for 10-15 mins.
13. Remove from the oven when you smell the aroma of the biryani around. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Then to mix the rice, scoop the sauce gently with a flat spatula from the bottom and slowly toss the rice with the sauce taking care not to break the rice or the chicken pieces. The white Biryani is now ready. Serve hot with yoghurt chutney and kachumbar. Enjoy!!
Mixing the biryani is a technique that it learnt with practice. Do not mix all the rice with the sauce in the roaster at one go. We mix and serve as much as we need, this way the biryani remains hot. But if we have to store the biryani to eat later, it is better to mix all the biryani in the roaster after resting it for 10 minutes, otherwise the rice gets packed and dry and the sauces do not get absorbed in the rice that well.