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Biryanis are visual delights: a beautiful array of long-grained rice, tender meat, pungent spices, flavourful nuts and most often, orange strands of exotic saffron.

Originally, biryanis were counted as a north Indian dish (the Mughals based in northern India are the key innovators of this superb preparation) but this fragrant food soon found favour with the Nawabs of Hyderabad and Lucknow. Now, of course, it is a dish prevalent all over the country. Served essentially as a main dish, it is soul satisfying as the quantity of lamb is double that of the rice. And then with a yogurt salad, biryani is undoubtedly lazeez and complete meal.

There are always requests for more and more biryani recipes! Rice being the basic ingredient along with chicken or mutton or vegetables, biryani is a versatile one-dish meal. In fact, biryanis demand that long grained rice such as Dehradun Basmati be used. And because this rice is exported in volumes the pricing is found exorbitant by most. The alternative is basmati from Punjab, it is good quality, but my personal favourite is basmati from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. There was a time when Indian spices and rice were bartered for precious metals and not without a reason. To a gourmet, the fragrance of the good quality Basmati rice coupled with its long grain is worth much more than any precious metal!

Biryani cooking is a medium of expression for chefs and culinary maestros of yester years. It is a fine blend of rice, spices, herbs and meats or vegetables. The skill of biryani cooking lies in cooking the rice to perfection and retaining the flavour and aroma of spices and herbs used in the process. Biryani is best cooked by dum method that imparts a special flavour and retains all the goodness of spices and herbs and also retains the moisture in the dish.


-----> Biryani Masala

Steps for a perfect biryani

A good biryani from scratch needs:

Aromatic water: Aromatic water to cook the rice so use nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cloves, green and black cardamoms, fennel seeds, bay leaves, peppercorns and salt. You can choose spices of your choice. It is best to make a potli of the spices so that it can be easily picked out once the rice is done. If you wish to make plain saffron flavoured rice then boil the rice with this aromatic water with added crushed saffron. Always cook the rice till three fourths done.

Food for the layers: This could be vegetables, chicken, or mutton. For this layer, make sure the meats or vegetables are cooked, tender, ready to eat and are almost dry. The chicken is preferred with bone, in bite-sized pieces. Same for mutton.

Garnish layer: This layer needs crisp deep fried onions and fresh mint and coriander.

Saffron in milk: This is an important part in which some saffron is dissolved in milk. This could be given the miss if you are using saffron rice.

Kewra water: This aromatic flavouring gives many biryanis its characteristic rich flavour.

Final layering: The top and bottom layers are always rice. Arrange a layer of rice. Add the food layer, garnish layer, dissolved saffron and kewra water. You can repeat this. After the topmost rice layer has been added, finish it off with a garnish layer.

Sealing the handi: Most chefs prefer to use atta. It is a foolproof seal! It should be a sticky dough. Apply the dough around the rim of the vessel and close the lid. You could also use thick aluminum foil to tightly cover the vessel.

Cooking: Preheat oven. And place the biryani pot. The time of cooking will depend on the amount you are preparing. At the time of service, break the seal or remove the aluminum foil. Or if you are using the slow cooking method on direct heat, place the sealed vessel on a tawa. 

World of biryanis

Let’s take you on a whirlwind tour into the world of biryanis and be prepared to have your mouth watering as you read on.

Chilman biryani: Lamb biryani cooked on low heat with a sprinkling of kewra, this dish is covered with a rich dough of flour, butter and water. This chilman (puff) is unveiled at the time of serving.

Asaf Jahi Degchi Biryani: This creation calls for mutton chops to be smothered in a yogurt based marinade with a lot of garlic, ginger and garam masala. As the rice is done with the flavours of cardamoms, bay leaves and black peppercorns, the final presentation is joyfully covered with halves of boiled eggs, chopped coriander and mint.

Yakhni Pulao: If it’s a Nawab who is judging a biryani competition, Yakhni Pulao would get all the prizes! Biryani is the 'country-cousin' of this exalted pulao which is basically an aesthetic blend of rich mutton stock, aromatic spices and rice. Inclusion of mutton pieces is optional as the mutton stock is enough to make a flavourful meal.

Kofta Pulao: Whoever thought of adding koftas to long grain rice and turning this into a biryani, is sure an innovative mind. The Kofta Pulao – white fluffy rice dotted with balls of minced meat in league with rose water, saffron and whole masala is a highlight of many formal dinners.

Mutanjan: A challenging preparation what with the amount of sugar that goes into it. Yes, Mutanjan has equal amounts of rice, mutton and sugar! The masalas: black peppercorns, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, bay leaves, cloves compliment the final flavour whereas the saffron, kewra, rose water and curds give the touch of all that is biryani.

Lucknowi Biryani: This delight from Lucknow has all the basic ingredients of mutton biryani but with a small addition of two to three drops of sweet itter.

Zarda Pulao: Sweet rice with khoya, saffron and kewra, sprinkled lavishly with slivers of almonds, pistachios and covered with silver foil. 

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