Here is the recipe I mentioned in my one year blogversary post – traditional dum biryani.
Everyone knows what biryani is – that lovely, rich and aromatic one-dish meal which is almost as synonymous with Indian cuisine as curry is. There are accounts showing that biryani was brought to India by settlers from the Persian Gulf. The method of cooking biryani varies from region to region. The most common method involves preparing the rice and the gravy separately and then layering them in a large pot. This is then sealed and allowed to steam gently. The meat gravy infuses the rice with all its flavor and aroma. This method of steam cooking is called “dum”.
Traditionally, some sort of large metal pot would be used. The lid would be sealed tightly using a sticky wheat flour dough. The steaming involves placing this pot over a heated heat diffuser, like a hot cast iron skillet; and the lid would be weighed down with something hot too, like a pot containing hot water or coals. Modern life demands that we improvise. A non-stick pot replaces the metal one. Aluminum foil takes the place of the wheat dough. Surprisingly, a mildly hot oven works well too. But every time I used the oven, I found the rice to be ever so slightly overcooked.
Cooking the rice perfectly is key to a good biryani. Each grain must be perfectly cooked, yet be separated from its cousins. Ending up with mushy, overcooked biryani rice is every cook’s worst nightmare. There are a few tricks that I’ve picked up over time. 1). Using slightly lesser water than necessary to cook the rice, so that it is 75-80% done. 2). Fluffing the cooked rice and spreading it on a plate keeps it from clumping together. 3). Also, it makes sense to start on the gravy first and cook the rice towards the end, right before layering.
Basmati rice is typically used, though us South Indians sometimes prefer Khyma rice too, which is just as fine and aromatic as the famous Basmati. You also need spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and bay leaves and fresh herbs like mint and cilantro/coriander leaves. And of course, ghee is another vital ingredient that provides biryani with a characteristic aroma. Some recipes use ghee alone, though I do substitute a part of it with oil.
This time I made biryani using shrimp or prawns, which cook very fast and so the gravy was prepared pretty quickly. I used small-medium sized shrimp. I find the super-sized ones don’t necessarily take the masala well. I also lightly fried the shrimp first, because I love the slightly roasted flavor it adds. You can add it directly to the masala, if you’d rather not fry it.
I paid extra attention to the rice, because that is what gets me every time. I willed myself to be patient and used the stove-top method of steaming the layered biryani. And I did end up with the most fluffy, fragrant biryani I’ve ever made. Which also means that this is a one-dish meal, but not necessarily a one-pot meal. You are better off not attempting this on your busiest weeknight.
You will need:
- Oil – 1/4 cup
- Cashew nuts and raisins – 8-10 each, optional (I sometimes don’t use them as we don’t particularly like raisins.)
- Onion – 1, finely sliced into half moons
- Shrimp – 1 lb, cleaned and marinated with salt and a teaspoon of red chili powder
For the gravy/masala
- Oil (or ghee or a mixture of both) – 2-3 tbsp
- Whole spices – 1″ piece of cinnamon, 3 cloves, 3 cardamom pods, 5-6 black pepper corns and 1 dry bay leaf
- Onion – 2 large, finely chopped
- Ginger and garlic paste – 3 tsp (freshly ground, if possible)
- Green chilies – 3, chopped
- Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
- Red chili powder – 1 tsp
- Coriander powder – 1 1/2 tsp
- Garam masala powder – 1/2 tsp
- Black pepper powder – 1/4 tsp (more for spicier biryani)
- Cilantro and Mint leaves – a few sprigs each (ground together to a paste or coarsely chopped to get 3 tbsp worth)
- Tomato – 1 large, chopped
- Yogurt – 1 cup, lightly whipped, so there are no clumps
- Salt – as per taste
For the rice
- Ghee – 1 tbsp
- Rice – 2 cups
- Water – 2 1/2 cups
- Salt – 1 tsp
- Lemon juice – 2 tsp
Also needed while layering,
- Ghee – 1 tbsp
- Cilantro leaves – a small handful, for garnish
- Saffron strands – a small pinch, soaked in 2 tbsp milk or Orange food color – a few drops, dissolved in 2 tbsp water (optional)
- In a pan, heat the oil for frying. Fry the cashew nuts and raisins till golden and keep aside. This will be used for garnishing the biryani.
- Next add the sliced onion and fry till golden brown. Remove onto a paper towel and spread them so they stay crisp while cooling. This will be used for layering.
- Next fry the shrimp lightly and keep aside.
- Heat the oil or ghee for the masala. Add the whole spices, allow them to sputter and become fragrant.
- Add the onions and saute till they turn golden. Add the ginger and garlic pastes and saute till the raw smell is gone.
- Add the masala powders and mix well. Add the cilantro and mint paste and saute well till they release a nice aroma.
- Add the tomato and yogurt and mix well. Do this on a low heat so as not to separate the yogurt.
- Add the fried shrimp and season with salt.
- Add a little water, bring to a boil and simmer on low till the gravy is slightly thickened.
Cooking the rice:
- While the gravy is simmering, you can cook the rice. Wash the rice in cold water 2-3 times and drain completely.
- Heat the ghee in a large pot. Add the drained rice and toast gently on medium heat, stirring all the while. The rice must be dry at this point and still retain the white color.
- Next add the required amount of hot water, salt and lemon juice to the rice. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and cook till the rice absorbs all the water. I used 2 cups rice, 2 1/2 cups water (a little less than they would normally need to be fully cooked) and my rice was done in 8 minutes.
- Once cooked, fluff the rice and spread on a large plate or baking sheet, so that they don’t sick together.
Assembling and steaming:
- In a large, deep pan (the pan used to cook rice or gravy can be used), spread a tablespoon of ghee and a small amount of the gravy in the bottom. Spread half the rice next. Strew half the fried onions, cashew nuts and cilantro leaves on top. Next add the shrimp masala. Add the rest of the rice on top. Finally, add the remaining fried onions, cashew nuts and cilantro leaves. Pour the saffron milk or colored water all over on top.
- Close the pan tightly. Place it on a heated, large skillet or griddle (a cast iron one works best). Allow to gradually steam on medium heat for at least 30 minutes.
- Rest the biryani for 5 minutes. Open the lid and mix thoroughly, but with a light hand.
- Enjoy your biryani hot with a side of fresh salad and raita or thick yogurt.
I hope you do make this lovely biryani. We enjoyed it a lot and I am sure you will too. Instead of shrimp, you can use meat, fish fillets or diced vegetables (like potatoes, carrots, green peas), though you may need to increase the amount of spices used while cooking meat.
So, tell me, do you have a favorite biryani recipe? Any secret ingredients or techniques? Do share. I would love to learn more!
I am linking this up at these awesome blogs.
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- By Stephanie Lynn