Chicken Biryani

It’s the ultimate all-in-one-pot dinner. Words cannot describe how fabulous the biryani is. It’s quite possibly the jewel in India’s crown. Tender meat, beautifully spiced with fluffy, fragrant rice. All cooked together in one pan. The best I ever tasted was in the Keralan city of Ernakulam near Kochin. I’m told it was cooked by a famous Hyderbadi chef, which would make sense as this is where the dish originates. It was absolutely amazing for many reasons. The chicken was moist, packed full of flavour and the rice fluffy and separated. The restaurant was obviously famous for its chicken biryani as it was the only thing on the menu. It’s easy to see why it’s become one of the favourite Indian dishes around the World. Try this yourself – it’s actually a really simple dish to make at home despite looking rather involved and tricky. The key to this dish is getting the rice right. Make sure you buy good quality basmati – and make sure you soak it first. It’s essential!


1kg chicken pieces
1 tablespoon garlic (minced)
1 tablespoon ginger (minced)
2 green chillies (roughly chopped)
5 cloves
5 cardamom pods
2 black cardamom pods
3 pieces mace
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 cinnamon stick (snapped in half)
½ cup fresh coriander (chopped)
½ cup fresh mint (chopped)
⅓ cup melted ghee (or vegetable oil)
3 cups natural yoghurt

Other Ingredients:
1 onion (thinly sliced)
1 1/2 cups basmati rice (soaked for 30 minutes in lukewarm water)
2 tablespoons fresh coriander (chopped)
15-20 saffron threads
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt

Heat a frying pan with half the oil and fry the onion over a medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until dark medium brown and crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Mix the chicken with all the marinade ingredients. Stir in half the onions and set aside.

In a small bowl, pour 4 tablespoons of boiling water over the saffron and leave for 15 minutes.

Bring a large pan of water to a rolling boil and add the remaining oil and the salt. Drain the rice of its soaking water then tip into the pan and cook until HALF cooked (about 5-6 minutes). Drain the rice again and set aside.

Tip the chicken into a large, deep pan and flatten out. Cover with the rice then scatter over the remaining onion. Sprinkle with the saffron water and coriander. Place a tight fitting lid on top and cook over a medium/high heat for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium/low and cook for a further 10 minutes. Reduce the heat again to very low and cook for a final 15-20 minutes. Do not stir the mix at any time. Remove from the heat completely and leave for 10 minutes before serving.

Either serve direct from the pan or portion onto plates or a platter. Serve with onion and chilli raita and/or some tamarind pulp and a hot and sour lime pickle.

  • Jay

    Hi Lee, talk about procrastination but I finally made your biryani. It turned out wonderful, I cooked it in the oven. and used only thighs and it came out perfectly cooked. Thanks again for your wonderful guidance!

    • leej

      A year in the making!

      I’m glad you (finally) enjoyed the delights of this biryani. It’s been a long time since I made it myself. Maybe I’ll revisit – it IS rather delicious.

      • Jay

        Thanks LeeJ, Recently we ate at an authentic Kerala restaurant in Philadelphia which caters over a several hundred mile area. We had the chicken biryani which did not have saffron and had more garlic and coriander powder, added raisins,and other spices. It was slightly sweet with more onions. Do you have this recipe? And what do you think of substituting the Biryani masalas that are sold and using the same technique?

  • Dmarky
  • Dmarky

    Hey dude,

    At the risk of sounding stupid (which I’m fine with) can you just confirm A) what saffron water is – water with a small amount of saffron in it I’m guessing? and B) that by ‘sprinkle’ you mean a smallish amount?

    Have to make it right for the target audience… I do that is.

    • leej

      Oops. I always leave a vital piece of information out…

      I have amended the recipe.

      You’re becoming very adventurous! Who’s the chick?

      • Dmarky

        No-one presently, but you know, as henry said it’s just me and him left, and we have to stay sharp… Who knows who’s going to walk past the kitchen door?

        Thanks on the saffron water. Was concerned that was just some basic piece of foodie knowledge I hadn’t been let in on yet.

  • Hi Leej!

    I finally bought the IKEA cast iron dutch oven, and am going to make this biryani today. Been drooling over this for days! 🙂 Saw the seasoning and washing videos. And bought all the indredients. Now I’m ready to cook! (after the whole cleaning and seasoning process of course).


  • Cool,

    Firstly, remember to season the pan correctly otherwise it’s going to stick!

    If you don’t want to cook it over a flame, then cook it this way:

    Add the marinated meat, and cook on the stove for 5 minutes until just starting to simmer. Add the par-cooked rice the saffron and coriander and onion and cover.

    Then instead of finishing it off on the stove, I would cook it in a preheated oven (170-180ºc) for a further 20-25 minutes with the lid on. Then remove from the oven and leave for another 10 minutes before serving.

    Hopefully this will work out for you! This has been a bit of a labour of love! If this doesn’t work, then I’ll fly over to the US and make you one!

  • Jay

    Hi Lee, I did buy the Ikea cookware- the larger one. My question is : will it cook evenly over the gas stove? I may have to use two burners to heat this one pan. Could I just stick it into the oven rather than using the stove?

  • Jay

    We have an IKEA which we visit regularly, though it is not in our area. Which of these do you recommend?

  • Jay

    Lee, I’ve priced the Le Crueset and it is a tad expensive ($250). What would be cheaper alternative for cast iron enameled dutch ovens?

    How about a clay pot? I know some of the Indian restaurants cook their biryanis in clay pots to get that aroma/flavor into the rice.

    • I don’t know if you’e near to an IKEA, but they do a great range of cast iron pots and pans that are about a quarter of the price of Le Creuset.

      Failing that a flameproof earthenware pot may well work. You could try the first part of the cooking process on the stove top up until the point you turn the heat down to very low, then you could finish off the cooking in a moderate oven (maybe 180ºC?). That way, the heat may be more evenly spread and less likely to stick.

      Hope this helps.

  • I use my trusted Le Creuset pan which very rarely sticks. They’re pretty expensive though. A good quality heavy based, non-stick pan is what I’d recommend. I would also recommend you keep the temperature as low as possible when simmering and maybe even use a heat diffuser so that there’s less direct heat from the bottom of the pan.

    You could also swill a little melted butter around the base and sides of the pan before adding the meat mix.

    I’ve made this biryani about 5 times and I must admit the second time I made it, it completely stuck to the pan and burnt as a result of me having the heat up too high. I still ate it though. 🙂

    Hope this helps.

  • Jay

    I must be using the wrong type of cookware. Any recommendations? Brand names available in the US?

  • Jay

    can this be made with cooked chicken? I’ve had poor results making biryanis with uncooked chicken.

    • I would think that using cooked chicken might create a rather dry consistency. The good thing about this recipe is that the chicken is moist and juicy. I’ve made it a few times and have always had the same delicious results.

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