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Northern India Cooking Class; Lesson 3: Chicken Biryani

Posted by Peggy on November 3, 2011

Achla with the centerpiece of our Indian Feast: Chicken Biryani
Recipe: Northern India Cooking Class; Lesson 3: Chicken Biryani

Ingredients for Chicken and Marinade

  • 14 green cardamon pods*
  • 3 large black cardamon pods
  • 2, 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 20 cloves
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 4 pounds chicken thighs; bone-in skin removed
  • 4 pounds chicken breast, bone-in, skin removed

Ingredients for Biryani Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 cups finely minced onion (Achla uses a food processor)
  • 1 (14 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

Ingredients for Rice

  • 3 cups white basmati rice (Achla recommends using aged basmati rice)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 heaping teaspoon black cumin seeds (Shah Jeera)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

Biryani Garnish

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds.
  • 1/2 cup golden or green raisins
  • Orange food coloring as needed, any brand**
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 heaping tablespoons chopped cilantro, optional


  1. Place both green and black cardamon pods on a cutting board and pound open with a mallet. Remove seeds and discard pod. Smash two of the cinnamon sticks into small pieces. Grind cinnamon, cardamon seeds and cloves in a spice grinder, or pound together in a morter and pestle until they are a powder.
  2. Combine yogurt with ground spices, ginger and garlic.
  3. With a sharp cleaver, cut thighs in half and each breast half into 4 pieces. In a large bowl, toss chicken with yogurt mixture, cover, and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours.
  4. Remove chicken from yogurt mixture gently scraping off as much marinade as you can (Reserve marinade — you will need it later for the sauce.) Season chicken with kosher salt.
  5. To make sauce, in a large sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons canola oil to medium high heat. Add minced onions and fry until golden brown and slightly crispy, approximately 15 minutes; adjust heat as needed to fry onions without burning them.
  6. Add crushed tomatoes and cook until thickened and oil separates. Add remaining yogurt marinade and cook for 5-10 minutes. Divide sauce into 2 shallow pans, large enough to accommodate all of the chicken.
  7. Raise heat to high. Add chicken pieces and stir until chicken begins to brown. Cover and simmer until tender, apx. 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. If sauce appears watery, remove chicken with slotted spoon, and reduce until thickened. Return chicken to sauce and cover. (Chicken may be made up to 48 hours in advance at this point, and refrigerated. Remove from refrigerator and reheat prior to assembling biryani)
  8. Meanwhile, soak rice in water to cover with 1 teaspoon salt for 30 minutes (no longer or rice will begin to disintegrate).
  9. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to high heat in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot. Carefully add remaining 2 whole cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and black cumin (Oil with spatter; avert face or use spatter guard). Once spices sputter, add drained rice. Stir until rice is coated with oil, add 6 cups water and let cook, uncovered, until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook rice until water is absorbed and rice is fluffy and tender (10-15 minutes, do not stir rice when cooking or it will become sticky.)
  10. While rice is cooking, in a small sauté pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels, reserving butter in pan. Place almonds in butter and brown; remove and reserve. Place raisins in butter and cook until plump. Remove and reserve.
  11. Pour milk into a small bowl. Whisk in food coloring (or use saffron, review notes below) until the milk is a rich shade of pumpkin orange.

* If possible purchase from an Indian grocer; others are bleached and loose flavor.

** You can use saffron instead of the food coloring for a more subtle color and added flavor. Use the best quality Spanish saffron you can find and warm the milk.  Stir in 1 tsp. of saffron (crumble the strands to release more color) until the milk is a light  orange and use as you would the food coloring. You can add a pinch of food coloring if you want a brighter orange.

Biryani Assembly: Put half the rice on a large platter, ladle hot chicken and sauce over it. Place the remaining rice over the top and garnish with swirls of the orange milk. With a large spatula, turn the biryani bottom to top, so you have some white and some orange rice showing. Sprinkle with the onions, almonds and raisins and cilantro, if using, and serve.

Make ahead tips: Make the dish, with the exception of the rice, up to 48 hours in advance. Or, make and assemble the entire Briyani (undercooking the rice) several hours in advance. Cover tightly with foil and a lid, then place in a 200 degree oven until rice is tender, about an hour or so.

Number of servings (yield): 1 of 7 recipes comprising an Indian Feast to serve 16.

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