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The components of a Biryani

11 July 2023

The components of a Biryani

Get to know the much-loved meat and rice combo

What is biryani?

The mighty biryani is a mixed-rice dish hailing from South Asia. It contains spices, veggies, and usually one meat, ranging from chicken, mutton or lamb, to prawn and other kinds of fish. It’s not 100% clear where the dish originated, but it’s generally understood to have been dreamt up somewhere within the Persian empire, which covers modern-day Iran, Turkey and Syria. It was brought to India by the Mughals – a Muslim dynasty which came to rule over the Hindu population.

The biryani – pronounced bi-ree-aan-ee – is thought to have come from the Persian birinj, which just means rice. Or perhaps it’s from biryanan, which means to fry. The jury’s out.  Wherever it got its name, it’s a very popular dish in northern India, and a common sight on Indian, Nepalese and Bangladeshi menus right here in the UK.

Are there different kinds of biryani?

 In India alone, there are tons of different biryanis, known to have been enjoyed by the Mughal leaders who brought the dish to India in the first place. Let’s talk about a few of our favourites…

Thalasseery biryani

This mild, fishy biryani is popular along the Malabar Coast, which runs up the western edge of the tropical subcontinent. Instead of lamb or goat, it’s made with prawns, alongside lots of ghee and spices including onion, ginger, garlic, lime and coriander.

Awadhi biryani

This tasty biryani is from the city of Lucknow in northern India. It stands out from the rest due to the way it’s cooked – low and slow over a fire in a closed clay pot. The dum pukht cooking method is basically the same as using a slow cooker, and can be left to simmer away for 24 hours. The dish itself contains saffron and cinnamon to add a bit of depth to the rice, which is mixed with spicy chicken or beef.

Beary biryani

Despite its name, this biryani contains absolutely zero bears. It’s from south Karnataka, on the southwest tip of India, and can be made mild or spicy, depending on where it’s served. The ghee and spice mixtures are joined by rice and a protein, which is generally chicken, beef or fish.

Hyderabadi biryani

There are two main variations of biryani in the Telangana state capital of Hyderabad – pakki and kacchi. Both dishes are thought to date back to the Mughal invasion in the late 17th century. The pakki consists of separately cooked rice and meat, which are then added together just before serving. While the kacchi is made with raw cuts of marinated meat (chicken or lamb), which are stuffed between layers of basmati, and cooked slowly in a pot over a fire with lots of spices.

Which spices are used in biryanis?

Although most biryanis are on the milder side, some do pack a bit of a punch. In most cases, the spices on a shopping list will feature the likes of ginger, garlic, coriander, saffron and cinnamon. Of course, if the dish is going to be a spicy one, red or green chillies can be added.

The components of a Biryani

How to decorate a biryani

There’s an artform to presenting this versatile dish, and garnishes can include saffron, boiled eggs, tomatoes, or fried onions for a bit of extra flavour. Different kinds of rice can be layered for further aesthetic appeal, showing how much extra care has been taken in preparing the dish. 

When it comes to condiments and extras, biryanis are often served with raita (a yoghurt-based side dish), or a salan (a spicy gravy) to balance the flavours. And although biryani is enjoyed all year round, it’s also considered a celebratory dish served during Eid and Ramadan festivals, weddings, and other special occasions across india. 

Traditional cooking style

Biryani is traditionally prepared with the dum cooking technique. Dum means to breathe – to keep food on a low fire – a bit like an old fashioned slow cooker. All the ingredients are layered inside a sealed pot over a low-burning fire to cook in their own steam, tenderising the meat and releasing all the lovely flavours. The same results can be achieved using a pressure cooker.

What kind of rice is best for basmati? 

Most importantly, what sort of rice should you be using with your next biryani? We’d always recommend basmati for dishes like this. The long-grain, ever so slightly aromatic rice, traditionally grown in India.

If you’re interested in exploring more dishes and cuisines, you can read more like this on our blog.