The traditional madrasi chicken biryani is very popular in South India especially in Chennai where not a single muslim function or event is complete without this being served. Its aroma fills the air and you can smell the biryani at least 5 houses down the street. It is so insanely delicious!
The art of the traditional madrasi biryani lies in its technique and the few tips and tricks which add to its flavour and taste. The flavour is enhanced by adding selected whole garam masala spices. Adding too many garam masala spices or garam masala powders mars its flavour and adding cashew or almond paste makes the rice grains sticky.
What is important in a delicious biryani is a combination of flavour, texture and taste and this is achieved by adding the right spices, the right quality and the right proportions of all the ingredients and at the right time using the right technique. It is like a marriage which comes together when everything is in perfect harmony.
Here’s the recipe:Ingredients:
1 whole chicken + 1/2 a breast (2kgs)
6 onions medium size
5 tomatoes medium size (preferably plum)
10 green cardamoms
2×3″ cinnamon sticks
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 a cup ginger garlic paste
10-12 green chillies small size
a handful of mint leaves
1 cup cilantro chopped
a generous pinch of saffron
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder
5 cups long grain basmati rice
*Some of the good brands of regular basmati rice are 817, Lal Qila, Tilda etc.
1. Peel, wash and slice the onions. You could use a food processor as it is much easier. Grind the ginger garlic paste. Wash and cut tomatoes into quarters, remove the stems from the green chillies, wash and chop coriander, wash mint leaves and keep aside.
2. Heat 1 cup of oil in a big pot. Add the whole cinnamon sticks, cloves and cardamoms.
3. Add the sliced onions and fry them on medium heat stirring on and off taking care not to burn them. The onions first turn translucent and then start getting golden brown.This takes at least 10 – 15 minutes. They should be evenly brown as in the picture.
4. Stir in the ginger garlic paste, turmeric and red chilli powder. Stir the spices on medium heat and as soon as you get a whiff of the spicy aroma add the tomatoes and green chillies.
5. Let the tomatoes soften a bit, then add the chicken pieces. Lightly roast the chicken in the masala by turning it over gently taking good care not to break the pieces. This should be done on medium to high heat.
6. Add the yoghurt followed by mint leaves and chopped coriander. Stir gently to mix everything well.
7. Let the chicken cook for sometime on medium heat till it is tender and cooked through. Then simmer on low heat till the gravy thickens and the oil rises on top. At this stage the chicken yakhni (biryani curry) is ready. Squeeze in the juice of half a lime, taste and adjust the salt.
8. Now transfer the chicken yakhni(curry) to a roaster. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Boil the soaked basmati rice till it is half (50%) cooked. The grains should be soft outside but still brittle inside.
9. Drain the rice and pour it over the yakhni (the prepared chicken biryani curry) in the roaster. Top it with chopped coriander and mint leaves. Dissolve saffron in 1/2 a cup of milk and sprinkle the half the saffron milk on the rice. Add the food colouring to a few grains of cooked rice and sprinkle the coloured rice on top.
10. Cover the roaster with the lid and bake in the preheated oven for 10 – 15 minutes. After 10 minutes , open the roaster and test the rice for doneness. If you find it gritty then bake it for 5 more minutes. Once it is done, remove from the oven, add the remaining saffron milk, close the lid and let the roaster rest on the counter or the stove top for 5 more minutes.
11. With the help of a flat rounded spatula gently turn over and mix the biryani from the bottom to the top little by little taking care not to break the chicken pieces. And as you mix, keep transferring the biryani to the serving platter a little at a time. Do not mix the biryani all at once as this will not only break the chicken pieces but also the rice grains. You have to slowly and gently mix it little by little with lot of patience.
Enjoy the chicken biryani with onion raita and eggplant chutney.
1. When you soak the basmati rice the water should be at least 4 inches above the rice. If there is less water the rice would tend to break and become sticky. Regular basmati rice should be washed and soaked for 1/2 an hour and the golden Sela basmati for 2 – 4 hrs. Please note that the golden sela rice takes longer to cook than regular basmati rice.
2. Boil the rice in a big pot that can cook 5kgs of rice/pasta and which can hold at least 5 litres of water. If you boil 1 kg of rice in a 1 litre pot then the rice would become sticky and mushy.
3. To test the rice for doneness, take a grain of rice and press it between your index finger and thumb. It should leave 3 small brittle grains on your finger. If the rice is not done yet then you wouldn’t be able to press the rice. Therefore it should be just a little soft on the outside but still gritty inside.
4. For extra flavour, smash 3-4 more green cardamoms just to open them a little and add them to the yakhni when it is simmering in the roaster just before adding the rice.
5. Adding saffron milk right at the end brings out the extra flavour.
6. I also add a little ghee on top of the rice before steaming it in the roaster at the final stage for added flavour.
7. Instead of pouring the saffron milk on the biryani,, you can melt butter in the saffron solution, add some of the boiled basmati rice to it and then sprinkle the butter flavoured saffron rice on top. This also enhances the flavour.
8. Use preferably plum tomatoes or vine tomatoes as they are not too tangy.
9. Choose medium sized freshly slaughtered yellow grain fed chicken.
10. Yoghurt should be thick, creamy and slightly sour. I prefer balkan style astro yoghurt or the 3.5% plain astro yoghurt.
11. Use the darker variety of cinnamon not the lighter Ceylon cinnamon which is mostly used in making sweet dishes.
12. For food colouring use the natural food colouring such as cochineal. Other dyes (red no.1 and red no.40) carry great health risks as they come from petroleum byproducts.