Murg Dum Biryani (Chicken Biryani)

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A traditional royal Mughlai dish made of fragrant basmati rice and chicken!

Who doesn’t love a good biryani, fragrant rice mixed with spicy meat and cooked on low heat to create a sensation of flavours and smells that are bound to make you want to dive right in and lick your fingers clean. For me biryani conjures up images of sunday afternoons of my childhood, when we would eagerly wait for the lunch time for the big pot of rice and meat to appear before us. All us children would avoid breakfast that morning because we didn’t want to share the tummy space with anything else. The morning breakfast was studiously avoided and we waited , those smells wafting through and our stomachs rumbling. Mom coming in and assuring us thats its not too long now smelling of cloves and cardamom. And then finally the moment would arrive, the big huge pot of biryani would be placed in the centre of the table and we kids would wait impatiently for the elders to hurry up and open it. Table manners were forgotten for that one day and we were allowed to dive in as soon as our plates were piled up with the hot steaming biryani, mint yogurt raita, green chutney, and onions and lemon on the side. Ah nostalgia is a good thing, takes you to a happy place.

I always associated making biryani with being time consuming, tedious, complicated and just a lot of work. Well I will be honest with you, it is all of those things, it will be not be your weeknight dish ever, it will always require pre planning, and it will always be a special dish made for special occasions. The good part is you can layer it and keep one day prior to your dinner party, so that on the day of your party you just have to pop it in the oven for it to ‘dum’ or slow cook while you enjoy that Shiraz. Did I mention a robust Shiraz goes very well with biryani.

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My recipe here is of a chicken biryani but you can easily substitute it for any other meat like lamb, beef, or goat. The recipe will stay the same and only the cooking time of the meat will vary as chicken cooks faster than other meats. Also, getting the right cut of meat is very important. For Indian chicken curries, I always use chicken thigh pieces if using boneless , as they get juicier with a longer cooking time. Chicken breast will become tough and dry.

You have to cook the rice and meat separately and then layer it together in the end. You can choose to cook the layered biryani on the stovetop over low heat, or, as I do it covered with a foil in the oven. The traditional method is of course to cook it over a low flame in a ‘handi (clay pot)’ sealed with wet wheat flour (atta) dough, which hardens around the edges as the biryani cooks, and the seal is broken on the table to release the aromas.

So without further ado here’s the recipe.

Chicken Biryani

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 2hr 30mins
  • Difficulty: “skilled”
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Ingredients                                  

Chicken masala

  • 1/2 kg boneless chicken thigh cut into bite size pieces
  • 4 tablespoon thick yogurt
  • 3tbsp Canola Oil (you can also use Mustard oil or any other vegetable oil)
  • Ginger, garlic, green chilly paste 2 tbsp
  • 2 medium sized red onions finely chopped (alternately pulse it in your blender to get a fine paste like consistency)
  • Garam masala powder 2tbsp
  • Coriander powder 2tbsp
  • Turmeric 1/4 tsp
  • Red chilli powder 1tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Whole spices – Cumin seeds (1/2 tsp), clove (6-8),  black pepper (4-6), cinnamon (1stick) , bay leaf(2-3)  , green cardamom (6-8) , whole red chillies (2-4)

Rice

  • 3 cups basmati rice
  • 1 cup fresh coriander leaves, green chillies, and fresh mint leaves chopped finely
  • Ghee (clarified butter) – 3tbsp
  • Salt, Red chilli powder (1tsp), Garam Masala powder (1tsp)

Garnish 

  • 1 large red onion julienne and browned in ‘ghee’
  • Unsalted roasted cashews
  • 2tsp Saffron threads soaked in 1/2cup warm milk

A ceramic or ovenproof glass baking dish roughly 10inch and foil for covering

Pre – preparation

  1. Marinate the chicken with a mix of curd , red chilli powder (1 tsp) , garam masala powder ( 1tbsp) , turmeric powder (1/4tsp) and salt to taste, for a minimum of 4 hours, and preferably overnight.
  2. Wash and soak rice for half hour before cooking
  3. Pre heat the oven to 180C

Recipe:

Chicken Masala (Cooking time – 45 mins-1 hr approx)

  1. Heat oil in a pan and crackle whole spices. Add finely chopped onion and fry them till golden brown and fragrant on a medium high heat.
  2. Add ginger garlic paste and fry for another 5 mins or until the raw smell goes off.
  3. Add the other dry masalas of coriander powder, garam masala, red chilli powder, turmeric, and roast for another 5 mins.
  4. Add the marinated chicken and fry till the chicken is coated with the masala paste.
  5. Let it simmer on medium high heat stirring occasionally till the chicken is cooked through. Add some water(not more than 1/2cup) if the ‘masala’ starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. This should take 30-45minutes.
  6. The chicken should be dry with the gravy coming together as a thick masala paste. Let it simmer on low heat to reduce the gravy incase its still liquidy.
  7. Keep it aside

Rice- 

  1. Boil water in a pot and add soaked rice. Check to remove the rice when it is just done and slightly undercooked. Be sure to take the rice out before it gets cooked and becomes starchy.
  2. Drain the rice and keep in a wide pan to avoid rice from sticking together
  3. Add ghee ( around 2-3 tbsp ) and mix
  4. Add fresh chopped coriander, mint, chillies, salt, red chilli powder, and garam masala powder (as per taste) to the rice and mix well.
  5. Keep aside

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Assembling the Biryani 

  1. Warm the baking dish slightly in oven and grease it.
  2. First layer the rice mix on the bottom. Garnish it with some fired onions, and cashews, and then top it up with a layer of chicken masala.
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  4. Repeat this with the final top layer ending up as the rice mixture.
  5. Sprinkle the saffron dissolved in milk on top and spread a final garnish of fried onions and cashews on it.
  6. Cover it with foil to seal the baking dish and place it in a pre heated oven or 20 mins at 180C.

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Some handy tips –

  • Always check for salt levels as you will be combining two different elements together with salt in them individually.
  • If you are short on time and want to avoid using up multiple dishes, you can mix half the rice with the chicken masala in the heavy bottomed pan used for cooking the chicken. Then layer the top with the remaining rice and garnish it with saffron milk, fried onions and cashews. Seal the lid with rolled out wet dough (use wholewheat or atta) and let it cook for 30mins on a low flame. The dough should harden around the lid sealing in the flavours which you can break for a dramatic unveiling.

Happy cooking !

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