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Chicken Biryani

The ultimate one-pot dish, a Biryani is a mixture of rice, spices and meat. The dish tastes fantastic when freshly made, but is perhaps even better when reheated and eaten the next day. Featured in cookbook Simple Spice Vegetarian by author and chef Cyrus Todiwala.

  • 61 - 90 Minutes
  • Hard
  • Serves 6




  • Tilda Pure Basmati Rice, 400g
  • Chicken (whole bird), jointed into 8–12 pieces, 1 × 1.3kg
  • Water, 3 litres (5¼ pints)
  • Potatoes 2–3, cut into chunks
  • Bay leaves, 2–3
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • Pinch fresh mint leaves, 20–25, torn
  • Fresh coriander, 6–8 sprigs
  • A generous knob of butter

For the marinade

  • Onions, 500–600g, sliced as thinly as possible
  • Extra virgin rapeseed oil, 200ml

For frying

  • Thick greek yogurt, 250ml
  • Red chilli powder
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste
  • 1½ tablespoons Garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice from ½ lime
  • Fresh green chillies, 2–3 large finger-type, sliced lengthways into 4 strips
  • Chopped or whole plum tomatoes, 400g can
  • 1 teaspoon salt

To serve

  • Mixed raita
  • Daal such as my parsee-style toor daal

How to make Chicken Biryani

  1. First make the marinade. Put the onions into a bowl and rub them gently under running cold water. Drain well in a colander, then dry in a salad spinner or with kitchen paper.

  2. Heat the oil in a deep pan. When hot, fry the onions in 3 separate batches until pale golden. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a colander, where they will continue to brown in their own heat. The oil can be reused another time if cooled and strained.

  3. Put all but 2 tablespoons of the fried onions into a blender, add the remaining marinade ingredients and whiz to a purée. You might need to do this in batches so that the machine can create a smooth paste and the motor doesn’t overheat. Transfer the mixture to a large flameproof casserole dish.

  4. Trim any excess skin from the chicken pieces, then place the meat in the marinade. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and set aside in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

  5. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4. Transfer the casserole dish to the oven and cook for about 1 hour, until the chicken is tender.

  6. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in a pan of boiling salted water for about 8–10 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside.

  7. Put the measured water into a large saucepan with the bay leaves and some salt and bring to the boil. Add the rice and boil for roughly 6 minutes, until al dente. Drain well, reserving the water to make soup if you wish. Fork through the rice to loosen the grains.

  8. Heat the saffron threads in a warm small frying pan over a gentle heat until they are crisp. Add 2–3 tablespoons of water and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

  9. Pour the saffron and its liquid over the rice while still in the colander and mix lightly to partially colour the grains.

  10. When the chicken is ready, the sauce might look too thin or a bit oily, but don’t worry about that. Heat it, uncovered, for a few minutes to reduce it if you wish, but a generous amount of sauce is needed to finish the dish. Taste and adjust the salt if necessary, then add the fresh mint and coriander. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour the sauce into a jug. Lower the oven temperature to 150ºC/300ºF/Gas Mark 2.

  11. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Return some of the sauce to the empty casserole dish and cover with one-third of the rice. Arrange the chicken pieces and a few chunks of potato on top, then cover with another third of the rice. Pour over some more sauce, dot with the remaining potatoes and cover with the remaining rice. Press down gently. Drizzle the remaining sauce over the rice, sprinkle with the reserved onions and the melted butter and cover tightly.

  12. Place on the middle shelf of the oven for up to 40 minutes to heat through fully. If the ingredients have become cold during the process of putting the dish together, they might need longer to heat through. In this case, lower the temperature to 120ºC/250ºF/Gas Mark ½ and continue heating until completely hot.

  13. Serve the biryani with Mixed Raita or a daal, allowing people to help themselves straight from the dish if you like.