Chicken Biryani

Today has been a day of learning lessons.  Lesson 1:  If you wonder out loud near a PetsMart employee why your dog eats the only type of Blue dog food not currently on sale he will a) explain that this is because your dog is a diva – and she wasn’t even with me and b) print off a $5 coupon for you.  Nice.  Lesson 2:  my local bookstores are shamefully remiss in stocking Indian cookbooks of any real use.  I just don’t think I should be learning to cook Indian from Betty Crocker.  (I am not making that up.  The most prevalent Indian cookbook in that store is a Betty Crocker).  Lesson 3:  Cooking with local, pasture fed meats takes extra planning.  Lesson 4:  There is a very good reason that Indian restaurants offer take out service.

As my regular readers know, I make a concerted effort to buy what I can from local farmers and limit what I get at big chain grocery stores.  I’m not a zealot and I do have some budgetary limitations, but I try to do my part.  Now, when you buy meat at the farmers’ market it comes frozen solid.  This makes it difficult to use the day you buy it.  I am not a fan of defrosting meat in the microwave.  That almost never goes exactly like you want it to.  And I’m not a fan of thawing meat in a hot water bath, though I’ll do that in a pinch.  This brings us up to my confession that for tonight’s dinner the chicken came from Kroger.  It is organic.  And it is free range.  But it is from Kroger.  Okay, I feel better now that that’s out there.

So, no decent cookbook to be had, and limited knowledge of how one makes a relatively authentic biryani.  I cobbled together pieces of a couple of recipes I found on the web.  (BTW – if you have a site that you like for Indian recipes please share)!  The thing that the best recipes seemed to share is that making biryani is not for the faint of heart.  It takes a long time; includes some ingredients that your average U.S. household pantry doesn’t have; involves many steps.  You’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth it.  There are a number of shortcut recipes out there so feel free to give some a those a shot if it fits better with your life.

Today was a good day to try this because it’s Saturday and I’m supposed to be spending the day cleaning the house.  Also I have a friend coming over later so I know I don’t have to get myself together to go out.  And so the process begins with de-boning the chicken and making the yogurt marinade.  The most cost effective way for me to buy organic chicken at Kroger is to get the “Griller Packs.”  The package includes 2 breasts and 4 legs.  It’s about 3 pounds.  It’s wicked easy to cut the breast off of a chicken bone.  Remove the skin first.  Make sure you use a very sharp knife and that you’re always aware of where the tip of the knife is in relation to your finger.  Cut along the side of the bone first to free the tenderloin (this may be easiest if you turn the breast upside down) and then cut along the wide, flat part of the bone, lifting the breast as you go so you can see, until the bone separates from the breast completely.   Cutting the meat from the legs is a little harder.  There are a lot of tendons in the legs.  Just do the best you can and then throw all the bones in a pot with some water and the ends of onions, carrots, celery, parsley, whatever you have, and make stock.  It doesn’t have to be perfect for this because you’re going to dice the chicken anyway.

The first part of this is pretty easy.  Mix some yogurt and spices and marinate the chicken all day or overnight.  Then you deep fry some thinly sliced onions.  Also pretty easy, though honestly next time, were there to be one, I might just buy a can of Durkees.  It might be nice to have a use for those other than that green bean casserole everyone used to make for church suppers.  Anyway, the marinating and the onions get done ahead and then you go on about your day.  When you come back to this though it will need your full attention for a while.  A piece of advice that I did not follow:  get everything together and measured before you start the next part of this.

So, in one pot you have to parboil the rice with some whole spices.  Parboiling is just cooking the rice part of the way.  In another pot you heat oil and ground spices and then add the chicken and the marinade.  The recipe suggests that it won’t take long to cook the chicken down to where the sauce isn’t watery.   That took me about 20 minutes.  While you’re doing that you drain the rice and spread it out to cool.  I removed the whole spices then.  And while all that is going on you need to heat some milk with saffron in it.  You’ve likely figured out by now that my kitchen is a complete disaster and this thing isn’t even done yet.

You’re in the home stretch at this point, and yet still shockingly far from eating.  Layer the rice, chicken mixture, fried onions and cilantro – in that order.  Two full layers and then top with the rice.  Pour the saffron milk over the whole thing, cover and cook.  One recipe called for cooking on low on the stove top.  Another called for baking in the oven.  You may recall that my stove doesn’t adjust as low as I would like so I chose baking.

At this point in the process my kitchen looks like a cyclone hit it; I’m exhausted and starved; and still an hour from eating dinner.  Yikes.  All I can think is that even if this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten next time I’ll order take out.  Turns out this is really, really, really good.  I put a little plain Greek yogurt mixed with garlic, coriander, cardamom and salt on the side of the bowl.  Extra yum!

Good? Oh my, yes!
Easy? Far, far from it.
Good for company? Definitely a meal to impress. And it makes a bunch.
Special shopping? You’ll need to hit a Penzey’s or other spice shop. My local grocery doesn’t carry cardamom pods.

So, here the best approximation I can give you of what I actually did, presented in stages.

Here are the recipes that I drew from:
Secrets of Making a Perfect Biryani
Chicken Biryani Recipe from Food & Wine

Chicken Biryani

Preheat the oven to 350.

Marinating the chicken

3 lbs Chicken on the bone
1 cup of plain Greek yogurt
1/2 Teaspoon turmeric powder
1 Tablespoon of ginger garlic paste
1 Teaspoon of coriander powder
a little salt

Mix all of the above ingredients and let the chicken marinate for 6-12 hours, more the better.

Frying the onions

1 C vegetable oil
3-4 onions thinly sliced

Heat oil to medium and add sliced onions. Stir the onions continuously for uniform browning. When they become light brown, drain them on kitchen paper. Keep them aside. They will get nice crispy as they cool down.

Parboil the rice

2 C basmati or jasmine rice
1 cinnamon stick
3 green cardamom pods
8 whole cloves
1/2 tsp caraway seeds

Add rice and spices to a large pot. Cover with 5-6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and boil 5-6 minutes. Drain the rice. Spread the rice on a tray to cool. Remove whole spices and discard. The rice will be only partially cooked at this point.

The saffron milk

1/4 C heavy cream
1/4 C low fat milk
a few threads of saffron

Heat milk in a small saucepan. Steep saffron in warm milk while the chicken cooks. Keep the milk warm.

Cooking the chicken

2T vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Garlic Paste
2 tablespoons Ginger Paste
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 C diced tomato (fresh or canned)
chicken and marinade

Heat oil in a dutch oven or large, heavy skillet. Add spices and cook 2-3 minutes until you can smell them. Add the tomatoes, chicken and marinade. Cook uncovered at a high simmer until the chicken is cooked and the sauce isn’t watery any more. 10-20 minutes.

Putting it together

1C chopped fresh cliantro
1C chopped toasted cashews (optional)

In a dutch oven with a tight fitting lid melt 2T of butter. Layer 1/3 of the rice; 1/2 the chicken and sauce mixture; 1/2 the fried onions; 1/2 the cilantro; 1/2 the cashews if using. Repeat all the layers. Top with remaining rice. Pour saffron milk over the top. Put on the lid and place the lidded pot in the oven. Bake 1 hour.

For Serving

1 C plain greek yogurt
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp salt

Mix well and chill. Serve aside the biryani.

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One Response to “Chicken Biryani”

  1. anjelina Says:

    i luv Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani

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