As soon as the weather cools down in autumn I start paging through my Indian cookbooks.

One the day that I discovered a pack of deboned chicken thighs in the freezer the page fell open on a Biryani recipe!

Biryani is a spicy rice dish that forms the base for various proteins, with lamb (or mutton , goat in India) and chicken being the most popular.

The dish originates from India where it is most popular with the Muslim community. It found its way to South Africa and if you open any traditional Cape Malay cook book it will be featured.

I usually favour “one pan/pot” recipes and find those with layers of ingredients tedious, so you will seldom find a lasagna in my house for that very reason! But when it comes to the glorious aromas of a good biryani I give in!

There are 6 components to a good biryani (and a fair deal of dish washing) but at least the dish benefits from advance preparation.

  1. Preparing the marinade & marinating the meat (or vegetables)
  2. Cooking a savoury rice
  3. Preparing and cooking the onions
  4. Cooking the meat (this step may be omitted; if you are using vegetables only, then omit it)
  5. Layering & assembling the dish
  6. Baking

The Rice

Most recipes call for Basmati rice. If you can find the long grain Basmati use it. I prefer using the common long grain rice or brown rice. Many recipes use lentils, usually 1 part brown lentils to 4 parts rice. I buy pre-spiced long grain rice from Moumy’s Curry & Spice shop in the Strand. This is a delightful little shop where Moumy has been trading for over 20 years. I buy her personally blended spice mixes for authentic flavours! I use 2 thirds Moumy’s Spiced rice and one third Tastic Naturals Brown Rice with Lentils or Split Peas. For Biryani you cook the rice until it is not quite done. The remaining cooking takes place when you bake the final dish.

The marinade and cooking the meat

The raw protein element is always marinated in a spicy yoghurt based marinade. It is important that this element is well flavoured and enough time is allowed. I always do this step before I start the rice. In most recipes the raw meat in layered with the par-cooked rice, and in others the meat element is lightly cooked or browned before layering. I prefer this as you get an extra flavour dimension. It also shortens the cooking time.

Some recipes call for bone-in meat cuts, but I prefer boneless as it’s easier to calculate portions and easier to serve and eat.

The onions

White onions are cut into slices and the rings are separated. They are fried in oil until they are golden and set aside. Half the onions are layered and the balance goes on top to finish the dish together with a few strands of saffron if you have any, but essential for special occasions!

The layering

The dish is assembled by layering rice, the protein (or veggies) and onions, then finishing with a layer of rice. Liquid is also added at this stage. The steam finishes the cooking of the rice. Some recipes call for some of the water from the rice and other call for stock, but my philosophy is to always add flavour, so I used tinned tomatoes flavoured with Indian spices.

The Recipe

At this stage the dish can be set aside or be cooked. It reheats very well and is therefore usually on the menu at religious festivities or family gatherings.