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.
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?
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
For the rice
- 500 grams basmati rice
- 1.25 litres water
- small sprig mint leaves
- small sprig corriander leaves
- large pinch salt
For the meat
- 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil , or ghee
- 600 grams onions , peeled and thinly sliced (about 3 large onions)
- 500 grams lamb or mutton, leg or shoulder , cubed
- 2 cloves garlic , finely chopped, grated or pureed
- 2-3 tsp ginger , finely chopped or grates (1/2 inch piece)
- 2 brown cardamoms (*) , lightly crushed to crack pods open
- 3 green cardamoms (*) , lightly crushed to crack pods open
- 1-2 inch cinnamon or cassia bark (*)
- 2 bay leaves (*)
- 4-5 black peppercorns (*)
- 4-5 cloves (*)
- 1/2 tsp black cumin seeds (*), use ordinary cumin seeds if you don't have black ones
- 1-2 green chillies , slit lengthways (adjust to your taste and strength of chillies)
- 1/2 tsp chilli powder (adjust to your taste)
- 1 tsp salt
- 60 ml thick, full fat natural yoghurt
- 100-150 gram chopped tomatoes
- small bunch mint leaves , chopped
- small bunch corriander leaves , chopped
- half small lemon , cut into small pieces
For the biryani
- 1 tbsp ghee or clarified butter
- a few strands saffron , soaked in a tablespoon of warm water
- a few drops rose water and/or kewra (screw-pine flower) essence
- orange or jalebi food colour, dissolved in 1 tsp water (optional)
- 1/4 cup cashew nuts or blanched almonds (optional)
The quality of the meat is important, so do buy good quality lamb or mutton. I used lamb steaks for my biryani.
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.
Sprinkle a little saffron water, rose and kewra essence over the rice.
Spread half the lamb curry over the rice.
Repeat to add another layer of rice, onions, lamb curry and the saffron and flavourings.
Top with the last third of the rice, the remaining browned onions and another sprinkling of saffron and flavourings.
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.
Made the recipe? Let us know how you enjoyed it in the comments!
Browse our full collection of curry recipes from around the world.
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.
Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!47 Comments to "How to Make Mamta’s Delicious Lucknowi-Style Lamb Biryani"
Amira rice is far superior to tilda. Plus who would use a rice produced by people who run London’s most overrated unauthentic and just bad Indian restaurant.
Hello Samant Vadera! Are you related to Suraj Vadera, CEO of Amira Foods? You seem to have responded within less than 10 minutes of this post being published, which suggests a campaign of searching for mentions of your competitor, Tilda, and trying to trash them. Poor show. Incidentally, are you aware that Tilda was sold a few months ago? You might like to reconsider your tactics.
Would you be Competition by any chance? By the way, it’s ‘inauthentic’.
Thanks for the post Kavey. Love, love, love biryani!
You’ve just guaranteed that anyone reading this blog will never, ever buy your rice. Stupid tactics.
This sounds wonderful. I will have to try it when I have a long lazy Sunday free. I want to smell it as you have made it sound so good.
The smell is lovely!
This looks lovely! I have pinned it for further reference.
I am fascinated as to which London’s worst Indian restaurant is, though. I would have thought there were a few candidates. And I won’t be buying Amira rice.
Alicia, hope you enjoy if you try. Will message you.
Wow Kavey, this looks exactly like my kind of thing. I love the sound of the recipe and I will give it a go, although there are a few things on the list I don’t have…I’ll get as close as I can. We only ever use Tilda basmati rice. I love the flavour and it never gets sticky.
Let me know what you don’t have, maybe I can send?
sorry I didn’t call yesterday, the day swept away with me… so funny that I made a biryani too… although mine is not quite as authentic as yours, I did double check that it was biryani that I was cooking and not pilaf and I think I got my technique right although I didn’t par-boil my rice first, it went in raw after the veg had cooked a little… tasted bloody amazing although yours really looks likes the real deal and rather tasty too!
Love that we posted about biryani on the same day. I suspect that, for dishes that have been with us so long, and changed as they’ve travelled around the world, that there are so many different versions of both pilau and biryani. If it tastes good, do it!
Great dish there Kavey, Ive never made a “proper” Biryani and I need to! …Must make this very soon! 🙂 Thanks for sharing this with us! 🙂 x
I can’t believe I hadn’t until this one!
Really enjoyed this post Kavey! Taught me some stuff. Going to give your mum’s biryani a whirl, looks and sounds delicious.
Thanks, me too, as I did a lot of reading around the web, and talking to mum and others, while researching for the introduction.
I love this dish, but am not a big fan of Tilda rice. I usually buy a Pakistan basmati rice from my local Indian supermatket. I love your Mum’s recipes and am quite surprised you have never cooked this before. Regards to you. Alan Wilson.
Hi Alan, I had some really lovely rice at my local Persian / Afghani restaurant and they showed me the bag so I could take a photograph. Am going to look out for it as it’s very nice.
I have to try this! Sounds fabulous – my stomach was rumbling at the way you described it. I used to live next door to a family who had small kids and occasionally babysat for them. Their mother used to pay me in biryani after I had mentioned how amazing it smelt. I think I got the better end of the deal!
What a fantastic deal, payment in biryani, that is just awesome!
We’ve programmed this into our cooking for the coming weekend. I’d intended this to be an “indian” week, which won’t actually happen much what with two “fast days” and two days cooking for guests, but we can just make enough biryani for 4 and eat it for two days – WHAT a hardship.
Given that you know your Indian cooking, I hope it lives up to expectations, but can certainly guarantee it will be very tasty!
I’ll let you know Sunday or Monday. We’ll be making that Chile dish your Mum talks about as well to go with it.
Oh I’ve never made that. I tried it recently, at a friend’s suppeclub, but of course I’m a chilli wuss so it was too hot for me…
I’m not really a wuss, but don’t really enjoy food that’s incandescent – any more than you our your mother do. I managed to pick up some very mild green chillies from Northern Africa, probably Morocco and will be using those.
A propos of green chillies. In the recipe for cooking the meat, you/Mamta put in the ingredients list “Green chillies slit legth wise”. Okay… but then later in the method you/she says
9 Add….. sliced green chillies, pieces of lime … So does slit length wine mean sliced lengthwise, which you then add as they are, or did you slit them lengthwise first (possibly to take out the seeds) and then slice into rings?
It’s obviously not of great importance, but I thought I’d clarify it if possible before launching myself into the cooking of the meat today.
Sorry Ian, didn’t see this in time but hope you resolved?
I cooked up your mums lamb biryani recipe at the weekend..I’m well pleased with the result 🙂
I cooked it for me mum, she’s not been well.. Put smile on her face that I cooked this 🙂 I think she’s maybe in shock now lol
Delicious and very easy to make..even for a cook like me
So happy you made it, and enjoyed it and even more so that you made it for your mum on weekend of Mother’s Day. Cooking is not as complicated as it seems, I think, as long as the recipe is clear and you give yourself time! 🙂
Bother!! I sent up a reply here, but something happened to prevent it appearing. Never mind. As I promised, I’m reporting back to say that I did indeed cook the Biryani and the Green Chilli curry for supper last night. They were both delicious and they will definitely be part of the repertoire here in La Souvigne, though not necessarily for our B&B guests unless they ask specifically for something Indian.
Anyway, it wasn’t partcularly hard to do though I did have some difficulty preventing the early stages from burning. My fault, and I’ll know what to do to prevent it. The quantities were extremely generous, but I rather expected that. We normally do 50g rice or so as a side dish for the two of us, so 125 was more than enough for 4 servings. We were expecting that, so have frozen a third of the total quantity to eat on Saturday. Hooray.
I’ve put a photo up on wildfood, here’s the address. Hope it works.
Thanks for persevering and posting, Ian. Much appreciated!
We usually eat less rice too but we managed this entire dish between Pete and I for dinner over 2 nights. So that’s 4 (greedy) portions. But we didn’t have any other dishes with it at all, and we did have seconds both times, as it was so tasty!
With just a couple of sides, this would easily stretch to serving 6.
Thanks for sharing the photo too… so pleased you enjoyed.
A real treasure it was. Thanks for talking about it.
By the way, I made a mistake in my previous. When I was talking about 125 g, that was the amount Mamta had per person (ie 500g for 4) We would easily feed 1½ to 2 of us from that, so the 500g would do 6-8 . I was rambling, sorry.
I had fun with the photo!!
It’s OK, I figured it out… thanks again! x
All this fuss over rice! I try and buy basmati rice with the longest grains and it must be Aged, used to buy double elephant in the hessian sack, when you open the sack, what a lovely aroma, will be trying your recipe over the holiday weekend, will let you know the outcome. Regards, Anthony.
Thank you Anthony, hope you enjoy it and thanks for sharing your rice story. I’ve never seen the “double elephant” rice! Is it called 817 Elephant Brand?
Can this be made ahead of time? I’m thinking of cooking/assembling everything today but not baking it in the oven until tomorrow evening. Thank you!
I phoned and asked my mum, she says yes but adds: when you’ve parcooked the rice, make sure you chill it properly/ quickly under cold running water, before assembly of the biryani, as lukewarm rice can be breeding ground for bacteria… but yes, absolutely fine to assemble, refrigerate and bake the next day!
Thank you! I’ve blogged about your recipe here: http://www.wittydomainname.com/2014/04/mamtaskaveys-lamb-biryani-aka-what-to.html
Absolutely delicious – I would make this again in a heartbeat. All three kids devoured it, too. 🙂
Kavey – I’m waiting for the oven. The curry tastes and smells amazing. The onions are gorgeous (takes patience) and I didn’t get a single mosquito bite whilst (see I did some Brit-speak there) collecting my mint. Next time I’m using more meat. The lamb shoulder chops are perfect for this, and I’ll just get a slightly larger package next time. From start to table, I think it is going to have taken 3 hours 20 min. But it was really fun to put this together.
Yes it’s a recipe that does take a bit of time hope you’ll agree it’s worth it!
It was delicious. Tonight we are having leftovers. I had two small lamb chops in the freezer, so I’ve defrosted them and made up some more of the curry, doubled the amount of yogurt for more gravy, and while I’ll reheat the original layered concoction, I will spoon the “new” curry over the top. before serving. Totally in-authenticating the dish, but we really loved the lamb curry layers and I should have had more to begin with. My daughter has been giving me the best, meaty tomatoes, so I used those tonight in the lamb curry. mmmmmmm. Complicated but really, as I said before, a lot of fun. A terrific recipe for someone who really likes the activity of cooking as well as the results 🙂
Very happy to hear you liked, and I don’t think it’s a problem to adjust the ratios of curry to rice to your preference!!
Here to testify that this is fully as awesome as it looks. Yes it takes a while but it’s very simple – I had a wonderful Sunday pottering in the kitchen, listening toTest Match Special and winning myself a thousand Husband Points in the process.
Real highlights were the whole spices making every mouthful different, and those onions are just …. so good.
thanks Kavey (and Mamta of course!)
So lovely that everyone is enjoying it!
I’ve finally got around to making this one – really lovely!
Loved your blog post, thank you and happy you like even if he didn’t!
Im sorry but we dont use tomatoes in Lucknow. Its used in hyderabadi. Never ever had a biryani in lucknow with tomatoes.
Did you read the post? I think makes it pretty clear that this recipe is a variation closest to Lucknow style rather than 100% in that style, both in ingredients and method. And when you say “we” are you sure you speak for ALL in Lucknow? My mausi lives there, by the way… 🙂