Chicken Biryani

Growing up in Mumbai, my next door neighbors were a lovely Muslim family. During the month of Ramadan, Mrs. Murtaza would cook delicious iftaar (the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset) dinners. I would smell the cardamom and saffron of the mutton biryani, and the seekh kebabs cooking over the hot charcoal, and rush over. 

Ramadan is an entire month long period of reflection for Muslims – for 2021, it’s from April 12 to May 12. 

So I’m going to share recipes for biryani in April. AND my friend Farah Saood will share her recipes for seekh kebab and kheer.



Biryani masala
• 1 bay leaf 
• 1 ½ tsp fennel seeds 
• 2 star anise 
• 10 to 12 green cardamom
• 2 black cardamom 
• 1 tsp peppercorn
• 5 pieces cinnamon 
• 1 tbsp cloves 
• 4 tbsps coriander seeds
• 2 tbsps black cumin / shahi jeera
• 1 mace (membrane covering 1 nutmeg) or javitri (refer notes)
• ½ tsp nutmeg 

To marinate
• 2 pounds of chicken pieces (or lamb or goat or beef) 
• 1 tsp red chili powder 
• 1 tsp biryani or garam masala
• 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
• ¼ tsp turmeric powder
• ½ cup yogurt 
• 1½ tbsp lemon juice
• 1 tbsp oil
• ½ tsp salt
• 2 tbsps raw papaya paste (optional)

To cook rice
• 2 cup basmati rice aged (soaked for 20 mins)
• 8 cups water
• 1 bay leaf or tej patta
• ½ tsp shahi jeera
• 3 cloves 
• 1 stick of cinnamon 
• 3 green cardamom

For gravy
• 3 tbsp oil or ghee 
• 1 bay leaves
• ¾ tsp black cumin
• 4 green cardamoms 
• 1 star anise 
• 2 inch cinnamon stick
• 8 cloves 

• 1 cup onions sliced thinly or 1/3 cup fried onions
• 2 green chilies slit (up to 4)
• 4 tbsp mint and cilantro leaves (for top layer)
• 4 tbsp mint and cilantro leaves (for seasoning)
• ½ cup yogurt
• 1 pinch saffron soaked in 2 tbsp of hot milk



  1. Wash chicken thoroughly and drain well. Add ginger-garlic paste, salt, turmeric, biryani masala, red chili powder and lemon juice. Next add yogurt and oil.

  2. Marinate well and cover. Allow this to rest for at least 4 hours to overnight in the fridge. This marinade tenderizes the meat. So longer the resting time, softer the meat will be.

  3. Just before cooking, bring the marinated meat out of the refrigerator so it acclimated to room temperature.

  4. Heat a heavy bottom pan or Instapot with ghee or oil. Add the spices. Immediately add sliced onions and green chilies. Fry them evenly until golden brown. Set aside HALF of this.

  5. Add the marinated chicken and the chopped mint and cilantro leaves. Sauté on a very low flame for 3 to 4 mins. Cover and cook for 10 mins on low flame until the meat is soft and tender. We are not adding any water to cook this. So make sure you stir occasionally to prevent burning.

  6. When the meat is cooked, you will be left with a thick gravy. Add the rest of the yogurt to this. Add the remaining fried onions, cilantro and mint leaves. Mix together. Check the salt and spice by tasting. You can adjust by adding salt or green chilies.

Cooking rice for biryani

  1. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil and add bay leaf, black cumin, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. Next add salt and the pre-soaked rice. Cook till al dente; the rice must be cooked completely but you must feel the bite. Drain it completely in a colander.

Layer the biryani

  1. Put the cooked chicken gravy in a bowl.

  2. Take the pot you cooked the chicken in (don’t clean the pot; you want all that yummy gravy goodness) and put a layer of the cooked rice, mint and coriander leaves. Add ghee as well. Then add a layer of chicken gravy on top of it.

  3. Add a layer of rice on top of the chicken gravy. Then add more gravy on top of that rice. Yes, just like a trifle or tiramisu dessert.

  4. Continue layering rice and chicken with the herbs until done.

  5. Finally pour the saffron milk. Next cover the pot with a foil or kitchen cloth. Place a heavy lid over the pot. We do this as we want the biryani to cook in its own steam.

  6. Heat a pan or griddle until very hot. Place this biryani pot on the pan; this way the contents in the pot don’t get burnt due to indirect heat. Lower the flame and cook for 15 minutes. Switch off the stove and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Serve chicken biryani hot with a raita, a yogurt-based salad.

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