This simplified version of Chicken Biryani removes the intimidation of the elaborate dish while still leaving layers and layers of flavor.
What is Chicken Biryani?
Like so many dishes, the origins of this flavor-filled Indian rice dish are much debated. The one thing that most people agree on is that it most likely came from Persia.
The components are fairly simple. Rice, meat, marinade, and spices. Basmati rice is generally the rice of choice, however, any long grain rice will work.
Each recipe has a different spice combination. For simplicity’s sake I have chosen garam masala, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, cloves, and saffron. If you can’t find saffron, have no fear. I’ve included an easy and economical substitution.
How to Make Chicken Biryani
Though there are several steps to making biryani, I don’t want you to be scared away. I’ve simplified some of the steps, consolidated others, and give you a store-bought substitution for one of the ingredients. Really and truly, I want you to make this dish. It is that good!
I like to start by marinating the chicken in a yogurt and spice marinade. The spice mixture includes garam masala. If this isn’t something that you typically have on hand, try my recipe. You’ll likely have all of the ingredients in your pantry. And trust me, once you make this recipe, you’re going to want to have the garam masala on hand. If you must, you can eliminate it and marinate the chicken with the remaining spices.
The marinating step can be done half an hour before you assemble the biryani or the night before. I tend to do it the night before so that I’m not doing all the prep on the same day.
You can also pre-prep the fried onions up to two days before. The recipe indicates frying the onions right before starting the assembly. But, again, if you prefer to break up the steps, the fried onions can be stored in an airtight container. If you really have no inclination to fry the onions, you can purchase bulk fried onions. French’s fried onions are a fine substitute as well.
Typically, saffron water is poured over the parboiled rice after the dish has been assembled, however, I add the saffron to the par-boiling step. I don’t think that it impacts the flavor negatively and it reduces another preparation step. True, you don’t get the variation in the color of the rice, but I think it’s a good trade-off.
If you’re unable to get saffron, substitute 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric plus 1/2 teaspoon of sweet paprika. Don’t use smoked paprika for this.
Parboiling the rice is pretty simple. Bring the seasoned water to a boil, add the rice, cook for 5 minutes, drain and set aside. I leave all of the herbs and spices in the rice to continue infuse their flavors. Just remind your family and guests that they may encounter a rouge bay leaf or whole clove.
Assembling the dish is done in layers. The first layer is quickly simmered marinated chicken which is poured into a pre-heated Dutch oven and simmered for 5 minutes. Next is a layer of the fried onions followed by the par-boiled rice and finally a drizzle of melted ghee or butter. Covered and placed in the oven, the biryani is baked for 45 minutes.
Allow to rest for 15 minutes, spoon onto a serving platter sprinkle with reserved fried onions and served with the minty yogurt sauce. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! :)
2 cups long grain rice (basmati or jasmine), rinsed until water runs clear
2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
3/4 cup ghee or vegetable oil + 1/4 cup melted ghee or butter
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, for garnish
For sauce: In a medium bowl, combine 3/4 cup yogurt, mint, and salt. Stir to combine and refrigerate until serving time.
Make the marinade: In a large bowl combine the remaining yogurt, garlic, ginger, garam masala, cinnamon, coriander, and 1 teaspoon salt.
Place chicken thighs in the marinade, stirring to coat all pieces. Allow to marinate for 1/2 hour at room temperature or refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Par-boil the rice: In a large pot, add 3 quarts of water, 1/4 cup salt, cloves, bay leaves, and saffron. Bring to a boil.
Add the rice stirring to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Cook for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water, set aside.
Place oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350˚F.
Fry the onions: In a 6 quart Dutch oven, cook the onion and ghee over medium-high heat stirring constantly until onions are crispy, about 10 – 15 minutes. Remove onions to paper-towel lined plate. Carefully remove all of the cooking oil or ghee, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the Dutch oven.
Assembling the biryani: Reduce heat to medium and add the chicken and yogurt mixture to Dutch oven. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
Layer 1/2 of the fried onions over the chicken mixture.
Layer the rice over the onions and drizzle with 1/4 cup melted ghee or butter.
Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
Transfer to oven and bake for 45 minutes.
Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.
To serve: Scoop the rice off of the chicken and transfer to a serving platter. Top with chicken and sauce. Garnish with the remaining fried onion and cilantro. Serve minty yogurt sauce alongside.
*If you can’t find saffron, use a combination of 1/4 teaspoon turmeric plus 1/2 teaspoon of sweet paprika. Don’t use smoked paprika.
I'm Christine Pittman, a cookbook author and busy mom of two. My recipes are made from scratch, they're quick, and they're fresh. I started this website over 10 years ago and I'm delighted that over a million people now come to visit every month to try my recipes. Thank you for visiting and for joining me on this delicious journey!Find out more about me here.
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