By: Sadia Kashif, Sensational Taste Tour Guide
People often call us Pakistanis “the curry nation”, but I call it “the biryani nation”. No special occasion, wedding or birthday, Friday or Sunday is free of biryani in our life. We cook biryani when we are happy; we cook biryani when we are sad or depressed. Biryani sometimes feels like our spiritual healer.
It is not only my favourite dish, but 90% people from our origin are somehow connected to this fabulous dish. Before we look into the types and recipe of this mouth-watering food, let’s talk about its origin.Biryani was introduced in 1600s by Mughul Queen Mumtaz Mahal (Shah Jahan’s wife). On a visit to an Indian Army Barracks, she came across a soldier who was underweight and undernourished. She then requested the Royal Chef to provide him with something that could be combination of meat, rice, nuts and vegetables. The creative Chef created biryani which is a blend of meat, rice, vegetables and sometimes nuts as an option. The word is derived from the Persian word Beri which means “fried” or “roasted”; initially they use to fry the rice before boiling. Special “Basmati” rice is used in this dish to give it a rich flavour and texture, which suited the Royal lifestyle of a Mughul Emperor.
The dish is made with a blend of aromatic spices like red chilli, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper etc (these days it’s very convenient to buy ready-to-use biryani spice mix), chicken, lamb, goat, fish, beef, vegetables and rice. Fresh coriander, bay leaves, mint and nuts add a delicious flavor to this amazing dish. Raisins, cashew nuts and almonds are sometimes added, especially in Afghani Biryani. This dish has so many types and cooking styles, depending on which part of the subcontinent you belong to. The most famous types are Bombay biryani, Sindhi biryani, Hyderabadi biryani, Kuchi biryani, fish, kofta, and prawn biryani and so on.
The process of cooking biryani is very interesting and can be divided in to 3 parts.
- Boiling rice.
- Preparing meat curry with spices and potatoes.
- Layering. This is the most important part, and my favourite as well. We take a large sized pot and spread one layer of rice, one layer of meat curry, then rice, then curry, repeating the process about three times. After slow cooking for 5 minutes, the layers are mixed well together and served.
The recipe has been modified and changed a lot and it’s cooked differently in each state and part of the subcontinent. “Dum pukht” translates from Persian as “slow cooked”, and this method creates delicious aromatic flavours. This is why it has been at heart of Indo-Pak cuisine for over 200 years. It is served as a main dish or chef’s favourite in almost all restaurants serving subcontinental cuisine, and, of course, our special moments are not complete without the amazing aroma of this dish.
The basic traditional Biryani recipe:
- Basmati rice, 2 cups. Wash it and soak it in water for 30 min.
- Boil the rice with salt and garam masala (seven spices) until its 70% cooked, and drain the water out of rice.
- In half a cup of oil, fry the onion rings until golden brown, then take the onion out and spread it on newspaper to get its oil out. Keep the onion separate until it is time to layer.
- In the same oil, fry chicken, thickly cut potatoes, green chilli, ginger garlic paste, and fry until the chicken is tender. Add tomatoes and yoghurt and the Biryani masala mix and fry until the oil comes on top.
- Add chopped mint and coriander.
- In a big pot spread the layer of boiled rice, one layer of curry, some fried onions, then spread another layer of rice, then curry and repeat the process 3 times. On top of the last layer, spread yellow food colour mixed in water.
- After covering the pot, slow cook the dish for 5 to 8 minutes.
- Mix everything together to blend all the flavours and aroma together.
- This traditional and classical combination creates this delicious, rich and wonderful dish called “biryani”, which can never be old fashioned, boring or outdated. Every single time you eat it, it will give you same great experience of food and royal cuisine.