Over 140 million views of Andy Hearnden‘s Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani says something. A lot, actually. And we must taste it for ourselves. Biryani is a rice dish flavored with fragrant spices, dried fruits and nuts nestled between the grains. There is a lot of variation in how its made. The type of meat, if any, and inclusion of vegetables lend to so many versions, the makings for a signature family recipe.
City of Pearls
Hyderabad is a city in southern India, famous for premium pearls. It’s the luxurious addition of saffron that earns this rice dish its namesake.
Many years ago, when I became really adventurous with my cooking, I found a recipe for Jamaican jerk chicken that was unbelievably delicious. I couldn’t wait to share it with the whole world. While she appreciated my enthusiasm, a very sensible friend took one look at the list of ingredients and rolled her eyes at me. I did say it was an easy one to make, but, then, I’m no stranger to seemingly complex dishes, like Mom’s Ghormeh Sabzi.
As with most Indian dishes, the list of ingredients for this Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani can be long. Some items may be difficult to find locally. Don’t stress. Just use whatever you can find and don’t be afraid to use substitutes. Don’t have red onions? Use white or brown. Many Indian recipes call for a mysterious item call mace. It is the membrane enveloping nutmeg seeds. The two taste so similar that one can easily stand in for the other.
The saffron, however, is well worth the splurge. While it may be the world’s most expensive spice, a little goes a long way, if you know how to use it properly. The secret to coaxing the most flavor out of those precious crocus threads is to grinding them with sugar in a small mortar & pestle before steeping them in warm milk.
Everything Andy makes is tempting and full-proof. So, make sure you grab a copy of his new cookbook. This recipe is essentially his. I did change the order and wording of some of the instructions, including details for the saffron-milk infusion.
Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani
Adapted from Andy Hearnden
3 large red onions, sliced thin
200ml peanut oil for frying
1 kg chicken thighs, skin off
4 tbsp yogurt
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
3 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
Juice of 1 lemon
2 green chillies
2 cinnamon sticks
12 cardamom pods
2 tsp cumin seeds
6 whole cloves
Salt to taste
1 bunch mint
1 bunch coriander
1 kg basmati rice
1 tsp saffron
1 tsp sugar
1 cup warm milk
Start by making the crispy onions by heating up the oil in a saucepan over a medium high heat and frying the sliced onions in batches until golden brown.
Do this in batches – don’t overcrowd the pan. Set crispy onions onto a paper-towel lined cook sheet. Store 1/2 of them in an airtight container til you’re ready to cook everything.
In a dry pan, toast the whole spices til fragrant, maybe 5 mins.
Grind them into a fine powder using an electric spice grinder or a mortar & pestle.
Marinate your chicken by adding the chicken, 1/3 of the crispy onions, yogurt, chili powder, turmeric, garam masala, ginger, garlic, one cinnamon stick, 8 cardamom pods, 1 green chili sliced thin, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 4 cloves and a tsp of salt in a large pot.
Mix well and marinate for 4-24 hours.
The longer the meat marinates, the better it’ll taste. Plan ahead, if you have time.
When you’re ready to cook everything, rinse the rice in cold water til it’s no longer cloudy. The more starch you remove, the fluffier the rice will be once it’s cooked.
Use a small mortar & pestle to grind the saffron with the sugar to a fine powder.
Warm milk and add saffron mixture. Set aside to steep.
In a large pot, half filled with water, add 1 tablespoon salt, 1 green chili sliced lengthways in half, 6 green cardamom pods, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 cloves and 1 tsp cumin seeds and bring to a simmer.
Add the soaked rice to the simmering water, stir once and cook for 6-8 minutes or until its just cooked. You still want a bit of bite in the rice.
Remove the rice from the water and set aside.
Place the marinated chicken onto a high heat and cook for 6-7 minutes, stirring every 1-2 minutes.
Remove half of the chicken, then sprinkle half of the rice on the chicken in the pot.
Next, add a layer of the crispy onions, some mint and coriander.
Place the rest of the chicken and repeat with the rice, crispy onions and herbs.
Drizzle saffron milk over the top.
Place a clean tea towel over the lid of the pot and cover the biryani.
Turn your element to medium high for 10 minutes, then turn it down to very low for 30 minutes. Take from the heat and let it rest for 20 minutes before taking the lid off and serving.