Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chicken Biryani (Stella's way)



Biryani is an aromatic rice dish. It's origins are debatable as some claim it originated in the kitchens of India, and some from the middle East lay claim to it's origin. It was introduced to East Africa courtesy of the Arab traders during the days of the Indian Ocean trade. Regardless of who introduced this dish to East Africa, we're glad they did as it is delicious! Biryani is essentially a layered rice dish. By this, I mean that the rice and meat are cooked in separate pots, and then brought together afterwards. The standout points of this dish is that it is very aromatic owing to the distinct basmati rice aroma and the aroma of the spices used to cook the rice and the meat. It is also very striking in appearance as the rice has a stark contrast owing to the natural white color of the rice and the bright orange or muted yellow color that the saffron or orange food coloring adds to the rice. In a properly cooked biryani, the final dish is minimally moist, with the individual rice grains separate, as opposed to a risotto, where the rice is of a creamy consistency. Due to the amount of work involved in creating this dish, it is more often than not prepared during special occasions. In Kenya, this is a popular wedding dish, especially among the Muslim population. In our household, this was made during Christmas celebrations. On to the recipe..

SERVING SIZE: Feeds 6-8 sufficiently

-Large mixing bowl with a cover (for marinating your chicken).
-Deep frying pan or wok.
-Large pot with cover (for cooking chicken).
-Large pot with cover (for cooking rice).
-Oven-safe deep baking dish (I used a rectangular  9x13 inch aluminium baking pan).
-Aluminium foil.


-1 lb chicken thighs bone in, skin removed (or you can use a whole chicken, cut into pieces).
-1/2 cup of plain, full-fat yogurt.
-1/2 bunch of cilantro (coriander), finely chopped.
-1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh mint leaves (optional).
-1 finely chopped chili pepper. You can leave the seeds in if you want it really like it hot (I used a chipotle pepper that I de-seeded to reduce the heat).
-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (tenderized the chicken).
-1 1/2 teaspoon salt (I use Kosher salt).
-1 tablespoon of garlic/ginger paste (can be found in produce section of the grocery store, or can be purchased at any Indian grocery store or even online).
-1 small unripe papaya. This is readily available in the produce section of the grocery store. This will act as a tenderizer for the chicken as well (de-seeded, cubed and pureed in the blender).
-4 tablespoons cooking oil (for cooking the chicken).
-3-4 bay leaves.
-1 cinnamon bark (broken into smaller pieces).
-6-8 green cardamom pods (can be purchased at an Indian grocery store or online).
-3 pieces dry mace/ "javitri" (this is the outer covering to the nutmeg nut and has a similar taste to nutmeg. It can be found online or at Indian grocery stores. Alternatively, you can grate half of a whole nutmeg and use it instead).
-6 whole cloves (can be found in the spice aisle of the grocery store).
-1 teaspoon peppercorns (found in spice aisle of the grocery store).
-2 teaspoons black cumin seeds (found online or at Indian grocery stores).
-1 teaspoon regular cumin seeds (found in spice aisle at the grocery store).
-1 generous pinch of saffron strands or 1 teaspoon orange food coloring dissolved in 1/2 cup of water (saffron can be found in the Indian section of the international aisle at the grocery store, or online).
-1 teaspoon red chili powder.
-1 teaspoon cumin powder.
-1 teaspoon coriander powder (can be found in the spice aisle of the grocery store).
-3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder (can be purchased at any Indian grocery store or online).
-3 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered.
-1 large onion sliced into thin rounds.
-2 cups oil (for frying the onions, and later the potatoes).
-1 small can of tomato paste.
-2 cans tomato puree or 4 tomatoes, pureed in blender.


-3 cups of basmati rice (washed, rinsed, soaked for at least 40 minutes  and drained. This is the secret to nice, fluffy rice that is not all mushed together).
-1/2 cup golden raisins.
-Enough water to cover and cook rice (about 8 cups).
-2 tablespoons vegetable oil.
-2 tablespoons salt (I use Kosher salt. It seems like a lot but for the amount of water you are using, it isn't. You do not want bland rice-boring! Add gradually as you cook and taste the water each time you add to ensure it is to your liking).
-4 cloves of bruised cardamom pods.
-1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds.

-The night before you cook your biryani, in the mixing bowl combine the chicken, yogurt, lemon juice, papaya puree, chopped pepper, garlic & ginger paste, cilantro, mint, bay leaves, cardamom, mace, cinnamon bark, cloves, peppercorns, cumin (both types). Use a spoon to coat the chicken pieces in the mixture. Coat all the pieces well, cover the container and refrigerate overnight for best results.

-In your deep frying pan, on medium heat, add 2 cups of oil.
-To test the oil for heat, drop in one strand of onion and if it starts frying away, your oil is ready.
-Put the slices of onions you had set aside into the oil and use your strainer to turn them around in the oil until they are nice and golden brown as shown below.

-Remove the onions from the oil and set on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
-Using the same oil you used to fry the onions, fry the potatoes you had set aside (Make sure you rub the potatoes with a dry, clean kitchen cloth or paper napkin before you fry them to get rid of any excess water or they will splatter as you drop them into the oil).
-Continue frying the potatoes until the edges are nice and crispy, and until a knife inserted into one of the pieces goes in easily. Remove the potatoes from the hot oil and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Set aside.


-In a medium saucepan, bring 8 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of cooking oil, 2 tablespoons of salt, 4 cloves of bruised cardamom pods and 1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds to a boil on medium heat.
-once the water is bubbling, add the drained rice into the water. Gently stir, cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Allow to cook for 15-20 minutes. You do not want your rice to cook all the way through, you want it "al dente". Such that when you press a grain of rice between your thumb and index finger, it breaks, but still feels a little hard. Once you get to this stage, turn the heat off and drain the water out of the pot.

-Distribute the golden raisins over the top of the drained, half-cooked rice and fold them in very gently (do not stir! Doing so will break up the grains of rice). Set aside.


-In a medium saucepan, on medium heat, place 4 tablespoons of cooking oil (I used the same oil in which I fried the onions and potatoes for more flavor).
-Add the 3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder, stir and let it cook for 2  minutes. Add 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon coriander powder and 1 teaspoon cumin powder. Stir.
-Add the tomato paste and stir well. Let the tomato/spice mixture cook for 3 minutes.
-Add the marinated chicken into the pot and stir well. If there seems to be no more moisture in the pan, add 1/4 cup water and stir. Cover and simmer on medium-low for 15-20 minutes.
***10 minutes into cooking the chicken, add in the fried potatoes and two big pinches of the fried onions into the pot with the chicken. Cover and let it finish cooking.***



-Traditionally, the dish is layered beginning with the cooked chicken at the bottom of the baking dish or pan first. I decided to go a different route, I began by layering some of the rice at the bottom of the baking dish, followed by the chicken, and then another layer of rice. Why, you might ask? I ask why not ;-) ? Doing it my way did not take away from the aesthetic value or flavor of the dish, trust me.
-I gently layered 1/3 of the cooked rice at the bottom of the aluminium roasting pan and gently patted it down to even it out. Then, I sprinkled some of the saffron water (randomly) on the surface of the rice. Make sure to leave some areas of the rice are left plain white as that sharp contrast in color is also an integral part of a good biryani. I followed that with a sprinkle of cooking oil (randomly) on the surface of the rice.
-I then layered the chicken and potatoes over the first layer of rice and tried to lay the chicken and potato layers as evenly as I could (make sure the chicken pieces are not on top of each other and that everything is in one layer).
-I then put the remaining 2/3 of cooked rice over the layer of chicken. I patted it down with a turner to even the surface. I then repeated what I did to the first layer of rice (randomly sprinkle the saffron water and oil on the surface of  the rice). To garnish, I sprinkled the fried onions over top of the last layer of rice.

-I covered the baking pan with aluminium foil and put it in the middle rack of the oven for 35 minutes (you can let it cook in the oven for 35-40 minutes, but covered the whole time with the aluminium foil, or your rice will burn).
-Once the cooking time is up, remove the baking pan from the oven and let it cool on the counter for 10 minutes. 
-To plate, lay the rice/ onion mix on a platter, then place the layer of chicken and potatoes over it. Voila! You have an aromatic rice dish that is not only filling, but beautiful to look at. Your house will also smell amazing! Enjoy!