A beautiful biryani, with steaming, spicy rice concealing succulent pieces of meat, is best known to most of us as a quintessentially Indian celebration dish. Yet, as with so many of our subcontinental favourites, we almost certainly owe its existence to Persia, and the Mughal invaders who ruled much of northern India in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Mughals came originally from Central Asia, and as well as being efficient empire builders they were excellent cooks. Missing the fruits of their native lands, they imported horticulturists to grow the foods they loved best—but they were willing to experiment. When their gently flavoured rice pilafs met the power of Indian spices, the biryani was born.
Biryanis come in many guises: they might include lamb or beef, and be studded with nuts or dried fruits. All these may qualify as a true biryani so long as they are cooked using the special Persian steaming technique called dam pokht (or in India, dum pukht). For that reason this is one of a very few occasions where we won’t rely on the Varoma for steaming, as a solid, tightly sealed pot with a heavy bottom does a better job of delivering authentic biryani texture. However, the Thermomix will get you most of the way there, from blitzing your marinade spices to par-cooking the all-important rice.
- For the marinade, place the chicken into a bowl. In the mixing bowl, mince ginger, garlic and green chilli for 3 seconds/speed 7. Scrape the sides and repeat. Add the remaining ingredients except the chicken and mix 10 seconds/speed 3. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix again 10 seconds/speed 3.
- Pour this marinade over the chicken; make sure that all the meat is well coated by massaging it with your hands. Cover and sit in the fridge overnight.
- Seal the marinated chicken in a hot frying pan with a dash of oil to caramelise the outside. Reserve.
- Soak the basmati rice in 500 grams cold water for 10 minutes—drain and set aside.
- Place onion into a clean and dry mixing bowl and chop 5 seconds/speed 5. Scrape the sides, add 1 tablespoon ghee and saute for 3 minutes/100 degrees/speed soft with no MC. Add the sultanas, brown sugar, mace blade and garam masala and saute for a further 3 minutes/Varoma/Reverse/speed 1 with no MC. Pour this mixture into a large cast-iron dish or thick pot.
- Without washing the bowl, saute the whole spices: cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, cloves, bay leaves, black peppercorns, and cinnamon sticks in 25 grams of ghee for 3 minutes/Varoma/Reverse/speed 1 no MC. Add 625 grams of water and heat 5 minutes/Varoma/Reverse/speed 2.
- Add the soaked rice and cook 3 minutes/100 degrees/Reverse/speed soft. The rice should be undercooked.
- Spread half of the undercooked rice over the fried onion reserved in the pot, lay the marinated chicken over it, sprinkle some fresh mint and coriander over. Add the second half of rice.
- Lastly, pour the saffron and milk mixture over the top of the rice and cover the pot tightly with foil before putting the lid on.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 200C for 30 minutes.
- Leave covered for 10 minutes before opening and serving with cucumber, mint and coriander raita.
AND … Alternatively in Step 6, if you don’t want the whole spices (particularly the cloves, peppercorns and cardamom pods) in your final dish, you can tie them up into a muslin cloth and omit the sauteing in ghee step—just add the water straight away. You can then discard them once the rice is cooked (Step 7).