Friday, October 21, 2016

Dhaka-Style Biriyani

মাটোন বিরিয়ানি 

Mutton Biriyani

Biriyani served normally, i.e. not in a flour casing,
because my house isn't try-hard Indian restaurant

This is going to be one of those epic recipe posts. Not so much because I'm going to waffle, but rather because the recipe itself is so long it may as well be a novel. Biriyani I believe needs little introduction: a dish that mixes meat and rice, possibly of Persian origins, it has travelled throughout South and Southeast Asia, and most regions nowadays produce their own varieties. The recipe below is what my mom cooks at home, and is close to what I could call Dhaka-style biriyani - though it is not identical to what you'd get from traditional roadside eateries. I've been building up to this post for a while, watching people cook biriyani and even cooking it with more experienced friends whenever possible. I wanted to wait till I was a reasonably competent cook before I had a go at this myself, so that I wouldn't mess it up and could post an actually workable recipe. 

As luck would have it my mom visited me earlier this year, so the photos you see are of what we cooked together and the recipe below has been signed off by her. A few words of advice though - I used 1.50 kg of meat for 1.00 kg of rice - but be as generous (or stingy!) as you want with the meat to rice ratio. My mom wanted to go for 2.00 kg of meat to 1.00 kg of rice, but I convinced her we shouldn't be eating quite so much red meat. The liver I used is definitely optional - the only way liver ends up in Dhaka biriyani is if there isn't enough of it to make a standalone curry. But liver in biriyani is a weakness of mine, and therefore a quirk in our household. Biriyani houses in Dhaka serve each portion of the dish with potatoes, a boiled egg and a side salad - but I don't mention the egg anywhere below because I don't like eggs have a complicated relationship with eggs.

Finally, I know restaurants around the world serve various types of biriyanis with chicken, fish, vegetables etc., but those didn't really exist back home until recently. Chicken biriyani isn't a thing for example - instead we have a lighter chicken and rice combo sold by biriyani houses called morog-polao (morog meaning chicken). Similarly, we have a fish-based ilish-polao, though this is mostly cooked at home. The spice combinations for these two dishes are different from traditional Dhaka biriyani, and I'm not sure how I would go about cooking them. If you're feeling adventurous, perhaps try cooking a more heavily spiced version of my classic chicken curry into your polao - but you're on your own with that kind of experimentation (though do let me know the results!). 

Ingredients (for the meat):
  • 1.00 litre of boiling water
  • 5.00 onions
  • 1.50 kg lamb or mutton, with some of the meat on the bone
  • 200.00 g of lamb liver, optional
  • 1.00 kg of basmati rice
  • 7 or 8 cardamoms, crushed
  • 6.00 5 cm pieces of Chinese cinnamon sticks
  • 3.00 teaspoons of powdered coriander seeds
  • 4.00 teaspoons of powdered cumin
  • Powdered chilli, to taste
  • 0.25 teaspoons of nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste
  • 8.00 cloves
  • 3.00 tablespoons of garlic paste
  • 3.00 tablespoons of ginger paste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 0.50 teaspoons of mace
  • 2 or 3 bay leaves
  • 2.00 medium potatoes
  • 125.00 ml of yoghurt
  • 1.00 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1.00 teaspoon of flour
  • 0.50 teaspoon of salt
  • Fresh chillies, to taste

Method (for the meat curry):
  • Finely chop the onions. It may seem like a lot but it will melt away into the 1.50 kg of meat and the 1.00 kg of rice!
  • Put a large pot on medium heat, and pour in a generous quantity of oil - enough to almost bring it up to about 1 cm of the pan
  • Add the onions and 4 cinnamon sticks, then begin frying
  • As the onions begin to brown, add the crushed cardamom. Mix in and continue frying for a minute

Onions softened with initial spices

  • Once the onions have browned and softened, remove one third of the onion from the pot. Set this aside for use later
  • To the onions still frying, add the coriander, cumin, chilli, nutmeg and salt
  • Mix the spices together, and add 125.00 ml of boiling water to create a sauce

The base sauce tempering

  • Add garlic and ginger, then temper the spices for 15 minutes before adding 4 of the cloves. Leave the spices to temper further, adding a little boiling water to the pot whenever it seems too dry
  • While the spices cook, prepare the meat. Cube any chunks of pure meat into bite size pieces. For meat on the bone, I have them cut down to smaller sizes at the butcher's. Alternatively, use small store-bought lamb chops

Adding meat to the spices,
and covering with black pepper

  • Add the meat to the spice mixture, and cover immediately with a generous amount of black pepper. Mix everything together and leave to cook for couple of minutes
  • Continue adding more spices - this time the bay leaves, mace and remaining 2 pieces of cinnamon, before mixing thoroughly
  • Add half of the reserved onion, stirring to mix again and cook for 10 minutes
  • After adding the onions is your opportunity to balance the spices - the ability to do this comes with experience, where the fragrance from the spice mixture will tell you if you need to add (as you can't really remove!) anything to get the flavour right. This isn't a point I've reached yet, but fingers crossed for the future
  • Add the remaining 4 cloves, then partially cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium low. Leave the meat to cook like this for 45 minutes

The meat cooking

  • While the meat is cooking, cut the potatoes into bite-size pieces
  • In a small bowl, mix the yoghurt, flour, salt and sugar
  • Around the 45 minute mark add the yoghurt to the meat and mix in, and leave to cook for a further 15 minutes
  • Then add the potatoes, mixing in to ensure they sufficiently covered to boil and cook
  • In a separate pot, boil the liver for a 5 to 6 minutes with a pinch of nutmeg and some black pepper

The meat curry with liver and potato -
the liver may look discoloured here
but by the end of the cooking process it'll be

  • Transfer the liver to the meat curry and cook for 10 minutes
  • Add the fresh chillies, turn the heat down and leave to simmer. During this period the potato will only be parboiled - but this is fine as it will be cooked further with the polao 

Ingredients (for the polao):
  • 1.00 kg of basmati rice
  • Fried onions reserved from the meat curry
  • 4.00 cardamoms, crushed
  • 4.00 cloves, crushed
  • 1.00 2 cm Chinese cinnamon stick
  • 1.00 teaspoon of ginger paste
  • A splash of milk
  • Fresh chilli, to taste
  • 1.00 tablespoon of butter

Method (for the polao & final biriyani): 
  • Put a pot large enough to hold both the meat and rice over medium heat 
  • Add the browned onions, cinnamon stick, crushed cardamoms and cloves. Fry for a couple of minutes
  • Add the rice and ginger, then continue frying for another 5 minutes

Rice with spices, water an milk

  • Add enough boiling water to reach the top of the rice, followed by a generous splash of milk. Bring to boil
  • Transfer all of the meat to this pot with the boiling rice (but withhold the potatoes)

Folding in the meat

  • Add two fresh chillies to the pot, and then turn the heat down to low. Cover and let cook on a low heat for 30 minutes
  • Once the 30 minutes have elapsed, open the pot and add the potatoes. Cover again and leave to cook for a final 10 minutes

Biriyani, ready to serve

  • Turn off the heat and serve the dish hot - perhaps with the traditional Dhaka garnish of onions, cucumber, chilli and lime

Additional Information:
In Dhaka this biriyani is traditionally made with goat, and is called kacchi biriyani. Since goat isn't readily available in the UK, I use mutton and lamb as a substitute. As I wrote in the intro, feel free to experiment with your choice of meat/vegetables - the spice combo from this recipe will probably work for chicken and salmon, but it will need tweaking for prawns and vegetables. Given this is such a laborious dish to cook I doubt I'll be experimenting very much - so unfortunately this time don't expect recipe updates to this! 


  1. How long does it take to make the whole dish?

    1. 2 hours if you're very quick - I tend to take my time and for me it's closer to 3.

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