Happy Independence Day. Though a bit late, I wanted to celebrate the special day with biryani as any occasion is celebrated back home. A festivity is not festive without a biryani and Malabar the region is synonymous with Biryani. Has anyone visited that area without at least once venturing out to eat biryani? Biryani is essentially a blend of rice and meat or fish with the rice cooked in the meat's juices to infuse the flavors in every bite.
The traditional method of making the biryani is in a "chembu", a copper cooking vessel, specially shaped to have a wider bottom for the meat to cook well and a narrow top for the rice. The steam emanating from the gravy cooks the rice above, the lid sealed with dough to prevent the steam escaping. It is called the dum biryani elsewhere especially in Hyderabad. It’s a healthy and a very delicious way of making biryani. The aroma when the dough is broken and the seal lifted is the ultimate.
Sunday at my grandmother's house was always biryani, and we used to wait impatiently for it, breaking and eating the dough crusts as it baked into a pretzel consistency.
She would start the cooking at morning, getting everything ready...cut, hand ground, chopped until there was a colorful array of ingredients laid out and the lingering fragrance of fresh herbs.
Over time, as convenience became our mantra, the meat and the rice started getting cooked separately, layered in baking pan and then baked together to get the flavors blended. I still make the biryani the separate way, but once in a while, the craving for the traditional takes over. On my last visit to Kerala, I gave up some clothes to make space in my suitcase for a small "biryani chembu". Even the time taken for the biryani seems less than the usual way.
Don't worry if you don't have the chembu.. before that came , I was cooking it the steam (dum) way in any heavy bottom vessel such as the crock pot, or a hard anodized aluminum large sauce pan.
So here is the recipe for the regular biryani.For those who want to try the dum version, the ingredients are the same and I shall soon post the detailed dum method.
You will need:
Mutton - 1kg or 2.5 lbs
Onion – 500 gm or 4 medium ones
Tomato - 200 gm or 2 medium sized ones
Green chilies – 100 gm or about 15 in number (Use 20-25 for 2 kg mutton..depending on the hotness of the chili.)
Ginger - 50 gm or a 4” piece
Garlic pods – 50 gm or 8 cloves (big)
Pepper powder – 1 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Plain Yogurt- 3/4 cup (thick)
Fennel(Perinjeerakam/Saunf) - 1 tsp
Poppy seeds (Khus khus) - 1 tsp
Mint leaves (Pudhina) - 1/2 bunch
Coriander leaves (Malli ela/Dhania) - 1/2 bunch
Curry leaves- a handful
Lemon juice- 1 1/2 tsp or juice of 1 lemon.
Clarified butter (Ghee) - 1/2cup or 1/4 cup mixed with ¼ cup oil
Cashew nuts – 20 gm or a handful
Raisins- 20 gm or a handful
For the rice:
Basmati rice - 1 kg/ 4 cups
Cinnamon (Karuvapatta) - 4 sticks
Cloves (Carambu) - 4
Cardamom (Elakkai) - 4
One bay leaf, salt.
Lemon juice- 1 1/2 tsp or juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste
Cinnamon 2 inch piece
bay leaves- 1
Caraway seeds 1 tbsp
Dry roast all together and grind to a fine powder.
1. Clean the mutton and cut into medium sized pieces. Wash and drain.
2. Soak the fennel seeds and poppy seeds in a bowl with water for an hour at least and grind with very little water to a very fine paste. If it still feels grainy, add a tablespoon of grated coconut to grind it well. Keep aside.
3. Grind together the ginger, garlic and green chilies into a coarse paste. Chop the tomatoes into cubes and slice the onions. One onion should be sliced extra fine. This one is for the fried onion garnish.
4. Marinate the mutton with the ginger garlic chili, and all the other spices and ingredients except the onions, biryani masala and herb leaves. Add salt too and keep covered for an hour at least. Clean and soak rice for 10 minutes. Keep aside.
5. Heat three fourth of the ghee/oil in a heavy bottom pan. Add the garnish portion of the sliced onions and fry, till golden brown and crisp. Sprinkle some sugar over the onions to speed up the crisping. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove the onions and fry the cashew nuts on medium heat till it turns brown on all sides. Drain and remove. Add the raisins now and stir till they plump up. Remove onto paper towels. This ghee/oil is used for flavoring the rice so save it.
6. Heat up the remaining oil and add the rest of the sliced onions and sauté it till it becomes translucent. Add the marinated mutton, the poppy seed mixture, the biryani masala and the coriander, mint and curry leaves and mix thoroughly. Keep it covered and cook on medium heat for an hour, checking frequently till the oil starts to separate and the meat gets almost cooked but still has a bite left. If the mutton normally requires a long cooking time, you can pressure cook it for just one whistle and then simmer on slow heat to concentrate the gravy. Do not add water at all. Check taste and add more salt or yogurt, pepper etc if needed.
7. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
8. Heat 3 tbsp of the remaining onion ghee/oil and add the whole spices- cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bay leaves. Sauté for a second and add the drained rice. Stir the rice till it turns opaque and add 6 cups water (three fourth of the quantity required for ghee rice). Cover and cook on slow heat the rice along with all spices and salt, till all the water is absorbed. This would take about 5-8 minutes.
9. In an oven proof dish, spread half of the mutton masala and place half of rice over it. Sprinkle some lemon juice to prevent the rice from sticking. Spread the remaining masala and top it with rice followed by lemon juice. Pour 2 tbsp of ghee/oil on top of it and sprinkle some roasted onion, nuts and raisins. Close it with a layer of aluminum foil and then lid and put it in the oven for 25 - 35 minutes. Remove and let rest for another 5-10 minutes before opening.
10. Serve with coconut chutney (biryani chammandi), Pickled onions (Ulli surka), Yogurt and Papadam.
P.S. The biryani masala freezes extremely well, so if you have extra masala, separate it after cooking and freeze it immediately. Defrost and make ghee rice to go with it and you have instant biryani.
Some more biryani recipes:
Mutton biryani, RP ishtyle
Revathi's instant biryani which is a must try when you want biryani,but have no time.
Shynee's Chicken biryani