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Not everybody has the good fortune to get hold of real, fresh Indian spices. So here is our scaled-down version of Biryani – not too authentic, but close. This must be one of our longest recipes requiring the most ingredients (and most processes) but the end result is quite worth the effort. Do not skimp on the side dishes. The whole taste sensation of a meal of Biryani is the sum of it – sambals, naan, papadams, dhal, the lot!

Chicken Biryani


  • 10 Ė 12 chicken thighs
  • lemon juice
  • salt
  • 30 ml biryani masala
  • ghee (clarified butter) or oil
  • 10 ml cumin seeds
  • 10 ml coriander seeds
  • the seeds of 6 cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 2 large tomatoes, grated
  • 30 ml finely grated ginger root
  • 30 ml finely grated garlic
  • 30 ml finely chopped red chilies (or dried chili flakes)
  • 500 ml plain fat free yoghurt
  • 45 ml finely chopped mint leaves
  • 5 ml nigella (onion seeds), optional
  • 5 ml turmeric
  • 4 green chilies, kept whole
  • 2 large cinnamon sticks, broken into smaller pieces
  • 500 ml black lentils
  • 500 ml Basmati rice
  • pinch of saffron or turmeric (optional)
  • 12 fresh curry leaves (or half of a 6-gram packet of dried curry leaves)
  • 3 large floury potatoes, peeled and cut into 3-cm chunks
  • 325 ml prepared chicken stock
  • 2 large onions, sliced into thin rings
  • coarsely shredded coriander leaves

Chef's hint: The heat and aromatics in a curry is a subjective taste so use more or less chili, garlic or ginger to suit your taste. And for some or other inexplicable reason, curries seem to require more salt than (say) a stew. So season every element of this recipe as you go along – there is no stirring once it is in the casserole! Hint: This royal dish of the Indian culture is usually crowned with hard-boiled eggs, but we omit them. You can of course, pop 3 hard-boiled eggs (quartered) on top of your Biryani because cooking is, after all, about you and your taste!


Trim the visible fat and excess skin off the chicken pieces and rub generously with lemon juice and then season well with the salt. Sprinkle with the masala. Heat a little ghee or oil in a frying pan and brown the chicken in batches until itís nicely browned. Place the browned pieces in a glass or plastic dish.

In a clean, heated pan, toast the cumin, coriander, cardamom and cloves just until aromatic, no longer. Tip into a small grinder or mortar and pestle and grind until fine. Sprinkle over the chicken, cover the chicken and set aside for now.

Heat some ghee or oil and fry the grated onion until golden then add the tomato and fry until the liquids have almost evaporated. Add the garlic, ginger and chopped red chili and fry for a minute or two, then transfer to a bowl. Add the yoghurt, mint, nigella (if using), turmeric, whole green chilies and cinnamon sticks. Mix well then add to the chicken. With clean hands, toss the chicken until itís well coated with the mixture. Cover the dish and set aside to marinate for an hour on the counter or for a few hours in the fridge.

Meanwhile, in separate saucepans, cook the lentils and the rice in water until half-done then drain well and season to taste with salt. If youíre using the saffron or optional turmeric, mix it with a little boiling water and stir lightly into half of the rice so that some rice is tinted and the rest remains white. Cover the rice and lentils and set aside.

Par-boil the potato chunks for 3 minutes, drain and pat dry. Heat some ghee or oil and fry the potato chunks until golden. Season and set aside.

Now, to construct the Biryani, smear a large casserole generously with ghee. Sprinkle half of the rice and almost all of the lentils into the bottom of the casserole. Next arrange the chicken pieces with its marinade on top of the rice and lentil layer. Sprinkle with the curry leaves. Arrange the potato chunks on top of the chicken. Sprinkle the rest of the rice and lentils on top and pour the stock down the sides into the casserole.

Brush a sheet of baking paper with ghee or oil and place it on top of the food. Cover the dish with tin foil and then a lid. Place in the oven preheated to 190ļ C for an hour and 15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to rest (still covered) for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat some ghee or oil in a frying pan and fry the onion rings until golden and nicely caramelised. Season with salt and set aside.

When the Biryani is cooked, remove the casserole from the oven, remove the lid and other covers. Lightly fork the top of the rice through to loosen it a bit, arrange the fried onion on top and sprinkle with coriander leaves.

Serve with Indian Flat Bread, Spiced Dahl,Tomato & Onion Sambal, Cucumber & Mint Raita, chutney and atjar.

Serves 8 generously