I love biryani!

I mean the real deal, with beautifully spiced meat between layers of fragrant basmati rice…

NOT stir-fried rice with a few bits of meat thrown in, served with a side of sloppy vegetable curry, that is sold as biryani by so many curry houses across the UK. *rolls eyes*

Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the difference between pulao (pilaf) and biryani it is in the cooking method rather than the ingredients: rice is the core ingredient in a pulao, often supplemented by meat or vegetables, just like a biryani, however all the ingredients of a pulao are cooked together. In a biryani, the meat or vegetables are prepared separately, then assembled into a cooking pot with the rice, before the biryani is baked to finish. In some variations, the meat and rice are par-cooked before assembly, in others they are added raw.

Biryani” comes from the Persian birian / beryan, which is a reference to frying or roasting an ingredient before cooking it. The actual dish was likely spread across the wider region by merchants and other travellers many centuries ago.

Biryani was very popular in the kitchens of the Mughal Emperors who ruled between the early 16th century to the early 18th century and it remains a much-loved dish in India today.

The Mughals were a Central Asian Turko-Mongolic people who settled in the region in the Middle Ages; their influence on architecture, art and culture, government and cuisine was significant. Mughlai cuisine is today best represented by the cooking of North India (particularly Utter Pradesh and Delhi, where my mother and father are from, respectively), Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Hyderabadi area of Andhra Pradesh in South East India. It retains many influences from Persian and Afghani cuisine.

There are many versions of biryani but two of the best known in India are Lucknowi (Awadhi) biryani and Hyderabadi biryani. For a Lucknowi biryani, the meat is seared and cooked in water with spices, then drained. The resulting broth is used to cook the rice. Both the pukki (cooked) elements are then layered together in a deep pot, sealed and baked. Hyderabadi biryani uses the kutchi (raw) method whereby the meat is marinated and the rice is mixed with spiced yoghurt (but neither are cooked) before being assembled in a deep pot and baked. The flavours of the meat and rice components in a Hyderabadi biryani are quite distinct, as compared to the Lucknowi biryani where they are more homogenous.

Also popular is Calcutta biryani, which evolved from Lucknowi style when the last nawab of Awadh was exiled to Kolkata in 1856; in response to a recession which resulted in a scarcity of meat and expensive spices, his personal chef developed the habit of adding potatoes and wielding a lighter hand with the spicing.

What is common to most variations is the dum pukht method – once the food has been arranged in the cooking vessel, the lid is tightly sealed (traditionally using dough but foil or rubber-sealed lids are a modern-day substitute) and the pot is baked in an oven or fire; the steam keeps the ingredients moist and the aromas and juices are locked in.

LambBiryani-5218

Biryani is often served for celebratory feasts such as weddings, though most don’t take it quite as seriously as the two families involved in a cautionary tale that my friend alerted me to – a wedding was called off after an argument between the two families about whether chicken or mutton biryani should be served at the reception!

My mum, who grew up in Utter Pradesh, makes a delicious pukki method biryani, in the Lucknowi style. However, rather than using the liquid from the meat to cook the rice, she makes a fragrant lamb curry (with just a small volume of thick, clinging sauce rather than the usual generous gravy) and she flavours the rice with fresh coriander and mint and rose or kewra (screw pine flower) essence. Her recipe involves slowly caramelising onions, half of which go into the lamb curry and the rest of which are layered with the meat and rice when the biryani is assembled. The pot is sealed tightly and baked until the rice is cooked through.

You’ll notice that I specify basmati rice for this recipe – and that’s because it’s the most traditional rice used for Indian biryani. Of course there is the taste – basmati is a wonderfully fragrant rice – but it is also important that the grains remain separate after cooking; some rice varieties are much stickier or break down more on cooking. Longer grained basmati is prized over shorter grain, perhaps because rice must be carefully harvested and handled in order not to break the grains or just because it looks so elegant?

LambBiryani-5195 LambBiryani-5216

Tilda, the best known brand of Basmati rice in the UK, recently launched a new product into their range. They describe Tilda Grand as a longer grained basmati rice, particularly well suited to making biryani and other Indian and Persian rice dishes.

Mum comes from a Basmati growing region of India and has seen Basmati planted, growing and harvested many times. Her family in India buy large sacks of rice when it is newly harvested and store it to mature because the flavour gets better with age; indeed I remember mum telling me how her parents saved their oldest basmati rice to serve to guests and on special occasions. Since I was a child, mum has always bought Tilda Basmati rice, so I asked her to try the new Tilda Grand and give me her feedback.

She didn’t find it as fragrant as usual but confirmed that it cooked much the same as the rice she regularly uses and commented that the grains remained separate and were longer than standard. That said, the grains weren’t as long as she was expecting; she has come across significantly longer grained rice in India in recent years.

This biryani, made to my mum’s recipe, is the first I’ve ever made and it was utterly delicious!

 

Mamta’s Lucknowi-Style Lamb Biryani

I have halved mum’s original recipe. The amounts below serve 4 as a full meal.

Ingredients
For the rice
500 grams basmati rice
Large pinch salt
1.25 litres water
Small sprig mint leaves
Small sprig coriander leaves
For the meat
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
3 large onions (about 600 grams), peeled and thinly sliced
500 grams lamb or mutton leg or shoulder, cubed
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped, grated or pureed
2-3 teaspoons (0.5 inch piece) ginger, finely chopped or grated
2 brown cardamoms, lightly crushed to crack pods open *
3 green cardamoms, lightly crushed to crack pods open *
1-2 inch piece of cinnamon or cassia bark *
2 bay leaves *
4-5 black peppercorns *
4-5 cloves *
0.5 teaspoon black cumin seeds (use ordinary cumin seeds if you don’t have black) *
1-2 green chillies, slit lengthwise (adjust to your taste and strength of chillies)
0.5 teaspoon chilli powder (adjust to your taste)
1 teaspoon salt
60 ml (quarter cup) thick, full-fat natural yoghurt
100-150 grams chopped tomatoes
Small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped
Small bunch of mint leaves, chopped
Half a small lemon, cut into small pieces
For the biryani
1 tablespoon ghee or clarified butter
A few strands of saffron soaked in a tablespoon of warm water
A few drops of rose water and/or kewra (screw-pine flower) essence
Optional: Orange or jalebi food colour, dissolved in 1 teaspoo water
Optional quarter cup of cashew nuts or blanched almonds

Note: The quality of the meat is important, so do buy good quality lamb or mutton. I used lamb steaks for my biryani.

Method

  • In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil or ghee and fry the onions until they are dark brown, stirring regularly so they do not catch and burn. This is a slow process; mine took approximately half an hour.
  • Remove onions from the pan and set aside.
  • Add more oil to the pan if necessary, then add the whole spices (marked *) plus the ginger and garlic. Fry for a couple of minutes to release the aromas.
  • Add the lamb, salt and chilli powder and stir fry to brown the meat on all sides.
  • Add the yoghurt, tomatoes, two thirds of the mint and coriander that is listed for the meat, the sliced green chillies, lemon pieces and half of the fried onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is done and only a little thick gravy is left. This may take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the quality and cut of the meat.
  • Once the lamb curry is made, turn off the heat and set it aside.
  • While the meat is cooking, prepare the rice. Boil briskly with salt, the mint and coriander leaves listed for the rice until the rice is nearly cooked. (When you squash a grain between your fingers, only a hint of hardness should remain).
  • Drain, rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside.
  • Grease a large oven proof dish or pan with ghee or vegetable oil.
  • Spread a third of the par-cooked rice across the base of the dish.
  • Spread a quarter of the reserved browned onions over the rice.

LambBiryani-5196

  • Sprinkle a little saffron water, rose and kewra essence over the rice.

LambBiryani-5200

  • Spread  half the lamb curry over the rice.

LambBiryani-5197

  • Repeat to add another layer of rice, onions, lamb curry and the saffron and flavourings.

LambBiryani-5201

  • Top with the last third of the rice, the remaining browned onions and another sprinkling of saffron and flavourings.

LambBiryani-5207

  • Dot the surface with a little ghee plus a few drops of colouring, if using.
  • Sprinkle cashew nuts or blanched almonds over top, if using.
  • Cover the pan tightly with foil and then the lid.
  • Preheat oven to 180° C (fan) and bake for about 30-40 minutes.
  • Serve hot.

LambBiryani-5215

 

Kavey Eats received samples of Tilda Grand rice from Tilda; as usual, there was no obligation on my part to write about it or to review favourably.

 

Guest post by Diana Chan.

Chinese-Seal-MINI_thumb2

Fried rice is a joyful food! A one-dish meal of rice, colourful bits of meat and vegetables, it is basically cold rice quickly reheated in a frying pan, to which you add tasty ingredients to make a fast and enjoyable hot meal.

Fried rice is my favourite food for lunch at home on the weekends, or on weeknights when I am eating dinner by myself and have some cold rice in the fridge. It is the perfect food to eat alone – there is nothing in it that requires cutting so you can eat it with a spoon or fork, leaving one hand free to swipe a tablet or turn a page. While a salad or sandwich has similar virtues, there is something much more comforting for me in a hot meal, especially in the evenings.

One thing I like about making fried rice is the process of assembling contrasting textures, colour and flavour from whatever suitable that happens to be around. To make fried rice attractive, think confetti. Yang Chow Fried Rice, a classic Cantonese dish served in many Chinese restaurants, is a tri-colour affair made with red-tinted diced barbequed pork, yellow egg, and green peas or spring onions.

Fried rice in restaurants is often very greasy because a lot of oil is needed to stop rice from sticking to the iron woks. You don’t have this problem when you make fried rice at home. Making a delicious fried rice is quicker than boiling an egg, and requires not much more effort.

There are 3 easy steps: soften, cook and mix.

First step – soften the rice

  • Put a little oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and add the quantity of leftover rice you would like to eat. Cold rice will be in clumps. Let the rice heat while you prepare anything else that will go in later. When you start to hear a sizzle and pop from the pan, after about a minute or so, sprinkle a teaspoon of water over the clumps; it will generate enough steam to soften the rice. Do not use more water as it can turn the rice soggy. After about another minute when the steam has done its work, press on the clumps with a spatula to break them apart.

Set 1, 1 Soften

Second step – cook what needs cooking

  • When all the lumps have been dealt with, make a clearing in the middle of the pan, add a few drops of oil and fry anything that needs cooking, such as an egg. Break and mix up the yolk and white, and sprinkle some salt all over the egg and rice. Use the spatula to break the cooked egg into rough pieces.

Set 1, 2 Make a Clearing Set 1, 3 Cook

Third step – mix in anything else

  • Lastly, add anything you are using that is already cooked or is fragile or heat sensitive. While the rice (below) was heating I opened up a tub of pulled ham hock to toss in, and then snipped some spring onions with kitchen scissors right into the pan. Mix everything together, taste and adjust seasoning. The rice is now done: an attractive, tasty, piping hot meal that takes no more than 10 minutes to cook from start to finish.

Set 1, 4 Mix Set 1, 5 Done!

I often make minimalist fried rice with just egg and some fresh herbs. I then over-season the egg to get a flavour contrast.

Fried rice can be made with many colourful and tasty ingredients, as long as they do not ooze moisture and make the rice soggy; I would not recommend raw meat or tomatoes for this reason. Things which disintegrate easily are not a good idea either, unless they just need warming up and can be stirred in last. The added items are preferably in small bits, so that there is some of everything in every mouthful. There are exceptions, of course – I will make an exception any time for chunks of lobster meat, for example.

You can add as many things to the fried rice as you want, but bear in mind that the more things you add, the longer it will take to prepare. Also, the more ingredients you add, the less quantity of each you should need – fried rice should be predominantly rice, in my opinion.

The sequence in which you add the ingredients within the basic three steps of soften, cook and mix depends on how much time an item needs to be cooked or warmed up. Depending on what you use, you may also want to switch or combine the first two steps of soften and cook. For example, you could sauté a chopped onion first, before you add the rice to the pan to soften.

The less effort required to make something delicious, the more enjoyment I get from eating it. That’s why, to me, fried rice is a fast feast.

When I like some cooked vegetables on the side, I cook them first in the pan before making the rice, to avoid having one more item to wash. Usually I will start by choosing something tasty, then something aromatic and, if needed, something else to add texture and colour to the fried rice.

Set 2, Crab

Crab, Ginger, egg white, chilli flakes

  • Sizzle the chopped ginger in a bit of oil before adding the rice; the oil will help carry the fragrance of the ginger throughout. Fry a leftover egg white if you happen to have one. While I would not encourage dumping any old leftovers into your fried rice, it is an opportunity to make good use of some odds and ends. Stir in a tub of white crab meat to heat through, and sprinkle over chilli flakes.

 Set 2, roast beef

Rare roast beef, garlic, leek

  • Sauté the garlic and sliced leek before adding the rice. While the leek is cooking, chop up some leftover rare roast beef. Stir the beef in at the end so it warms up but doesn’t really cook further, to preserve its colour. Scatter with some chilli flakes, or give it a few grinds of black pepper.

 Set 2, chorizo

Chorizo, fresh thyme, onion, egg

  • Sauté the onion before adding the rice. Meanwhile, cut the chorizo into small pieces. When the rice has been heated, mix in chorizo and thyme and stir until the juices from the chorizo gives the rice a lovely colour.

Set 2, ham

Pulled ham hock, onion, sugar snap peas

  • Sauté the onion before adding the rice. While the rice is heating, snip sugar snap peas straight into the pan with kitchen scissors (if you likewise prefer to avoid washing a chopping board). Let the rice cook a little longer than usual so the sugar snap peas have time to become crisp tender. You can sprinkle an extra teaspoon of water over the rice to create some more steam. Stir in ham last, just to warm up.

Set 3, palette Set 3, roast chicken

Roast chicken, roughly chopped ginger, fresh chilli, coriander, sultanas

  • Sometimes I like to assemble a palette of colours before starting to cook. Start with sautéing the ginger. Add the sultanas to the rice at the beginning so they benefit from the steam and get plump. The sultanas give a burst of sweetness somewhere in every bite, and makes this fried rice especially delicious.

Set 4, onion Set 4, egg
Set 4,peas Set 4, Done!

Shrimp, ginger, onion, egg, peas and soy sauce

  • If you like the taste of soy sauce, you can always add a teaspoon or two of it to the rice instead of water at the beginning of the process. This fried rice is comparatively complicated as it has many ingredients, including frozen ones straight from the freezer. Cook the ginger and onions first, then park frozen shrimp on the rice to defrost while the egg cooks, and finally add frozen peas to the mix and stir the mixture around until everything is piping hot. If you used only one teaspoon of soy sauce, you would probably still need to season the rice with some salt.

The next time you have some rice left over, freeze it in individual portions. When you want to make fried rice, blitz it in the microwave for a minute or so and you are ready to go.

 

Huge thanks to Diana for her wonderful post on making quick and delicious fried rice.

Do let us know your favourite combinations to add to fried rice and if you follow Diana’s instructions, let us know how you get on.

 

Greg Malouf’s recipe for Persian Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken (Tahcheen-e morgh), within a review of his book Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia, remains a popular post on the blog, and it has been lovely to see how many readers have given the recipe a go and enjoyed it as much as we did.

Of course, many of us immediately started thinking about variations – using the basic recipe for a baked rice cake with a filling of yoghurt-marinated chicken but ringing the changes by changing that marinade. It’s not that we were dissatisfied with Greg’s original recipe as it stands, but that it was so good it inspired us to take it further.

One idea I had back then, but still haven’t got around to trying, is to use the yoghurt-based marinade from my mum’s Tandoori chicken or lamb recipe to make an Indian-spiced Tahcheen-e Morgh.

Another idea, which we tried and very much enjoyed, was to mix African Volcano Peri Peri marinade with yoghurt to make a Mozambique-spiced Tahcheen-e Morgh. Because producer Grant Hawthorne has already done all the work in creating a beautifully balanced blend of flavours, using his Peri Peri makes this variation super quick and easy, though you will still benefit from giving the chicken plenty of time in the marinade before assembling the dish and baking it.

AVBakedRice-4392

 

African Volcano Tahcheen-e Morgh (Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken)

Ingredients
Marinated Chicken
350 grams thick natural yoghurt (full fat)
4 tablespoons African Volcano Peri Peri Marinade
3 egg yolks
0.5 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
500 grams boneless free-range chicken thighs, skin removed, in 2 cm cubes
Rice
200 grams basmati rice
2 tablespoons sea salt
80 grams butter plus extra for greasing

Method

  • Beat the yoghurt with the egg yolks, African Volcano Peri Peri Marinade, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the chicken to the yoghurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours ahead of time.
  • Wash the rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch. Strain the rice, rinsing it again with warm water.
  • Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the salt and stir in the strained rice. Return the water to a rolling boil and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Test the rice by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre. Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can.
  • Preheat the oven to 190 C (fan).
  • Butter a 2 litre ovenproof dish. Add a circle of baking parchment to the bottom of the dish and butter over it again.
  • Remove the chicken pieces from the yoghurt marinade, retaining both. Use your fingers to wipe lots of the marinade from the chicken, so only a small amount remains on the meat.
  • Mix the parboiled rice with the marinade and spoon half of the mixture into the base of the ovenproof dish. Spread the rice out over the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Arrange the chicken in the well. Spoon the rest of the rice over it to cover, and smooth the surface flat.
  • Press a sheet of lightly buttered foil down onto the surface of the rice, put the lid onto the dish and bake for 1.5 hours.
  • Remove the dish from the oven, lift the foil away and dot the surface of the rice with generous knobs of butter. Replace the foil, put the lid back on and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Carefully turn the rice out onto a warm serving platter and peel away the parchment paper.
  • Serve with a bowl of creamy full fat yoghurt and fresh mixed green herbs.

AVBakedRice-4397 AVBakedRice-4396

Do have a go and let me know what you think of my variation on the classic Persian Tahcheen-e Morgh!

 

As I wrote recently, I fell in love with Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia by Greg & Lucy Malouf, the moment I saw it.

SarabanBook-6259

In this post, I want to share a most wonderful recipe from the book – tahcheen-e morgh (baked yoghurt rice with chicken).

During a talk I attended recently, Greg was asked to describe the one dish that summed up Persian cuisine for him. He answered:

“There is one dish that is the centre of the universe for Iranians and that is rice… the way they cook it with a crispy edge, it’s like suckling pig!”

Many questions later, he was asked about any particularly difficult cooking techniques:

“The rice! I really like making it… it’s really easy… but there are five minutes of sweating at the end to see if there’s a crust!”

Having taken that comment to heart, I was certainly a little nervous about how the dish would turn out, apprehensive about how disappointing it would be if I failed to get the fabled crunchy crust.

SarabanBook-6260

To my delight, the crust was magnificent and the dish delicious. I can’t wait to make it again!

SarabanChickenRiceBake-5888_thumb

Tahcheen-e morgh

Baked yoghurt rice with chicken

Ingredients
250 grams thick natural yoghurt
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons saffron liquid *
1 teaspoon orange-flower water +
finely grated zestof 1 orange
1 teaspoon sea salt ^
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
500 grams boneless free-range chicken breast and thighs, skin removed and cut into 2 cm cubes ~
400 grams basmati rice
2 tablespoons sea salt^
80 grams butter, plus extra for greasing

*The recipe for saffron liquid specifies 20 strands of saffron to 2 tablespoons of boiling water, instructing that they be lightly, briefly and carefully toasted in a dry pan over medium heat, ground in a mortar and infused in boiling water for at least 1 hour. I dislike the strong earthy taste that comes from too much saffron so I used approximately 10 strands in 3 tablespoons of boiling water and didn’t bother to toast them before infusing.

+I didn’t have any orange-flower water so used just 2 tiny drops of (the much stronger) natural orange extract that I had in stock. This worked well.

~ I prefer the taste and texture of thigh, so used only thigh meat and no breast.

^As the first teaspoon of salt was to be used in the marinade and the second two tablespoons were used to cook the rice, I used ordinary table salt instead of sea salt.

Method

SarabanChickenRiceBake-5875_thumb

  • Beat the yoghurt with the egg yolks, saffron liquid, orange-flower water, zest, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the chicken to the yoghurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours ahead of time.
  • Wash the rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch. Strain the rice, rinsing it again with warm water.
  • Bring 2.5 litres of water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the salt and stir in the strained rice. Return the water to a roiling boil and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Test the rice by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre. Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can.

SarabanChickenRiceBake-5877_thumb
SarabanChickenRiceBake-5876_thumb SarabanChickenRiceBake-5878_thumb SarabanChickenRiceBake-5881_thumb

  • Preheat the oven to 190 C and butter a 2 litre ovenproof dish. Remove the chicken pieces from the yoghurt marinade. Mix half of the parboiled rice with the marinade and spoon it into the base of the ovenproof dish. Spread the rice over the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Arrange the chicken on top of the rice, then spoon the rest of the rice to cover, and smooth the surface. Cover tightly with a sheet of lightly buttered foil and bake for 1.5 hours.

SarabanChickenRiceBake-5884_thumb

  • Remove the dish from the oven and dot the surface of the rice with bits of butter. Replace the foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Turn the rice out onto a warm serving platter.

SarabanChickenRiceBake-5885_thumb SarabanChickenRiceBake-5889_thumb

  • Serve with a bowl of creamy yoghurt and a selection of fresh herbs – tarragon, basil, chives and parsley would be lovely.

SarabanChickenRiceBake-5883_thumb

We didn’t have a suitably shallow ovenproof dish, so we used a deeper cast-iron casserole. Although we buttered very liberally, we were not able to turn the dome of baked rice and chicken out whole. In fact it wouldn’t come out at all! Instead, we had to serve it from the dish, ensuring that each plate received a generous piece of the crunchy crust.

We served it with thick natural yoghurt with parsley, coriander, dill and chives (the four herbs used in the kuku-ye sabzi (soft herbed omelette) recipe we had made recently, also from Saraban.


Published by Hardie Grant Books, Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia is currently available from Amazon.co.uk for £17.62 (RRP £30).

© 2006 - 2014 Kavita Favelle Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha