Mention the word ‘Biryani’ ( a one-pot dish that launched a million food fantasies ) to anyone who knows and one would conjure up images of long, fragrant grains of basmati rice happily married to tender, succulent pieces of meat, delicately spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, cloves…yes, the usual suspects plus ONE secret ingredient no one will confess to, if they’re totally honest!
It would possibly be the unwritten sacred rule of Biryani-making, passed down from one kitchen to another in hushed tones, fiercely guarded by those who value their culinary reputation a touch more than they value their friendships.
Of course, I’m not about to reveal any earth-shattering secrets here ( then, I will have to kill you soon after and this post will need to self – destruct ) but I will say to you, what a revered Biryani chef on a TV show once said to me – ” You must follow your head ( get the basics right ) but don’t be afraid to follow your heart….let your eyes and your nose be your guide. And whatever you cook, serve it with a flourish of confidence! With good ingredients, what could possibly go wrong?”
So here it is. My Biryani-on-the-go ( very different in style from its slow-cooked parent but with the same DNA, trust me! ) – perfect for those long and tiresome Autumn evenings when cooking, by law, should not be allowed to carry on for longer than 60 minutes!
It breaks many, MANY rules but if the kids are willing to lick their plates clean without any prompting, it can’t be all that bad.
“LET’S START FROM THE VERY BEGINNING, A VERY GOOD PLACE TO START”
*To feed two adults and 2 very hungry caterpillars!
I N G R E D I E N T S
Red onions – 2 meduim, roughly chopped
Ginger – the size of a 50p coin, bashed
Garlic – about 4/5 cloves unless you’re off on a date after dinner…
Green chillies – as many as you dare, if at all.
Tomatoes – 2, chopped
Sultanas or Raisins – small handful
DRY WHOLE SPICES
green cardamom – 3/4
bay leaf – 1
cloves – a few
cinnamon – a few sticks
CHICKEN – a mix of thighs and drumsticks ( 500 gms approx )
THE BIG CHEAT – A jar of Tikka Masala Spice Paste ( let me know if you need a substitute )
And here we go…
1. Hob on.
2. Heat some oil, a sensible amount with a blob of butter
3. Add the dry spices, keep stirring…
4. You hear the crackle, feel the hit of that aroma ( turn up the exhaust you must ) then toss in the onion, move it around for a bit, add in the ginger and garlic. Cook on medium/high for about 5-7 mins before unleashing the chillies with a prayer. The sultanas/raisins go in too, ready to plump up in the hot juices.
5. Now, stepping away from convention and bowing to the 5-a-day rule, I added a few vegetables to my pot! ( Purists, you may leave now ) I chose chopped carrots and frozen spinach, the tomatoes dived in soon after. Then I tipped in the star of the show – the chicken.
So far, so good.
5. Soon after the chicken + veg + spices have had a good mix on a medium/high heat ( oops, forgot to mention, in a VERY non-stick deep pan, preferably ) – out comes the Genie In A Bottle – the Tikka Masala Spice Paste. A generous tablespoon of this stirred into anything, even mud, could bring a foodie back from the dead, such is the aroma and rich taste. So let it roam free and see how it works its magic.
6. Carry on cooking for a few more minutes, about 5-6 still on medium/high until everything in the pot is bathed in hues of burnished gold – the deeper, darker the better ( a non stick pan should prevent it from charring ) A pinch of SUGAR ( I know! ) at this stage helps the onions caramelise better, adding a sharp contrast to the smouldering spices.
7. Now, wait for the chicken to get melt-in-the-mouth soft and just slump into this deliciously gloopy mess. Reduce heat to minimum, cover and get on with the rice.
About a cup and a half of the best basmati rice you can find.
Cover with lots of water, then bring up to a furious boil, under a lid if you must as the chicken simmers away alongside.
Lid off so it doesn’t boil over, leave it on a rolling boil for as long as it takes to get al dente ( yup, none of that sticky absorption method! ) – then strain ( sieve ) and rest for at least 10 mins to allow all excess water to drain. Very important to enable every grain to wake up and dance.
By this time, the chicken should have given up all hopes of holding shape and standing firm. It knows it’s destined for a lip-smacking Biryani. Or something quite close 🙂
Lid off the chicken and the last bit of stirring on high heat to dry off any watery pools the frozen spinach may have bequeathed!
When fairly dry and oozing irresistible flavours and fragrances, the chicken practically waltzing off the bone at this point ( do check and adjust seasoning coz the Tikka Masala Paste may not leave much room for salt ) – turn off heat, reward yourself with a glass of wine and wait for it to cool down a bit.
* The flavours should be bold and strong!
Then, gently fold in the rice to bring it all together.
As a fire-extinguisher, should the Biryani be too bold and strong, may I suggest some chopped cucumber folded into plain yoghurt, garnished with a pinch of cayenne, black pepper and a few chopped sprigs of fresh coriander! – the Raita!
So, how do you make your Biryani? Do you make Biryani?
Let me know.