Festive Biriani

(Photo by Andrew K Brown/Flickr)

The unique, exotic flavour of this rice pilau owes much to the inclusion of powdered aromatic ginger. Serves 12.


Chicken Savory

2 x 1.5 kg/3 lb roasting chickens
185 ml/6 fl oz/3/4 cup ghee
or mixture of ghee and oil
4 tablespoons blanched almonds
4 tablespoons sultanas (golden raisins)
8 small new potatoes, peeled and halved
2 large onions finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 teaspoons salt
2 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes
125 ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup natural yoghurt
30 g/1 oz/1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
2 small cinnamon sticks

Spiced Rice

1 kg/2 lb/5 cups basmati or Dehra Dun rice
4 tablespoons ghee
2 large onions, finely sliced
10 green cardamom pods, bruised
5 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons powdered aromatic ginger
1/2 teaspoon saffron strands
3 tablespoons rose water
or 10 drops rose essence
3 teaspoons salt
2 litres/4 pints/8 cups chicken stock


6 hard-boiled eggs
1 cup blanched pistachios or cooked green peas


Chicken Savoury: Cut chickens into serving pieces. Use backs, necks and wing tips to make stock for cooking the rice.

Heat half the ghee (or ghee and oil) in a small frying pan and fry the almonds over medium heat until they are golden. Drain on slotted spoon and set aside. Fry sultanas for a few seconds, drain and put aside with the almonds. (These are for garnishing the dish later on.) Fry peeled and halved new potatoes until well browned on all sides. Drain.

Pour ghee remaining in frying pan into a large, heavy saucepan, add remaining ghee or oil and heat. Fry the chopped onion, garlic and ginger until onion is soft and golden. Add chilli powder, pepper, turmeric, cumin and fry, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add salt, tomato, yoghurt, mint, cardamom and cinnamon sticks. Cover and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until tomato is pulpy, adding a little water if mixture becomes too dry and starts to stick to pan.

When mixture is thick, add chicken pieces and stir well to coat them with spice mixture. Cover pan and cook over very low heat until chicken is tender, about 35 minutes. There should be only a small amount of thick gravy when chicken is cooked. If necessary, remove chicken and cook gravy uncovered for a few minutes until thick enough to mound in the spoon. Return chicken to pan and set aside.

Spiced Rice: Wash rice well and drain in colander for at least 30 minutes. Heat ghee and fry onion until soft and golden. Add cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick, aromatic ginger and rice. Fry, stirring, for about 3 minutes or until rice is coated with the ghee.

Toast saffron strands in a dry pan for 1 minute, shaking pan or stirring so they do not burn. Turn onto a saucer and with the back of a spoon, crush to powder. Pour 2 tablespoons hot water or stock onto saffron powder and stir to dissolve. Stir into the measured stock, together with rose water and salt, and pour over the rice, stirring well. Add chicken savoury and fried potatoes and mix gently.

Cover saucepan tightly, turn heat very low and steam for 20 minutes without lifting lid or stirring. Turn off heat and leave for 10 minutes. With a large metal spoon transfer biriani onto a large warm dish, garnish with almonds and sultanas, halved eggs and cooked peas and serve at once.

Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)