Minced Chicken Misery
This is an incident that happened a few years ago. Till that time, I had never ever in my life, cooked either chicken or biriyani. Armed with my mom-in-law's recipe, I ventured out (to the kitchen) to prepare chicken biriyani.
I was confident that I could get it right (may be a little over confident seeing the end results) and impress my husband - how cool would it be for a vegetarian to prepare chicken biriyani? Impress him, I did, but for a whole different reason.
I followed the recipe exactly for the first 3-4 steps. Then, the smarty pants that I am, I decided to deviate from the recipe and planned to pressure cook the chicken pieces to save some time. Even at that time, I knew (with my limited knowledge of cooking) that I should add water when pressure cooking.
So, in went the water.
What I did not know at that time was that there are exceptions to the "water & pressure cooker" rule. And pressure cooking chicken was one such exception - which I clearly did not know of.
(Note: You can pressure cook the chicken pieces along with the spices , and it does save time, but do not add water while pressure cooking) .
After a couple of whistles from the pressure cooker, I waited (im)patiently for the steam to escape. I was expecting to see well cooked chicken with just enough gravy when I opened the lid, instead I saw chicken pieces swimming in a pool of stock - more than the water I had added. My five liter pressure cooker was almost ¾th full with stock. Even to me - the novice cook - that did not seem right. But I was not sure whether to throw away the stock. What if I lose the flavor of the biriyani if I throw away the stock? (We have adapted the recipe to use this stock)
So, I called up my mom-in-law and she asked me to boil it to thicken the gravy.( I may not have been very clear to her as to how much stock was really there). And I did what she asked me to do - boiled the chicken - for more than two hours to thicken the gravy. It was like boiling an ocean.
By the end of my boiling saga,the stock had more or less dried up; all the chicken pieces had cooked "very well" and had become mushy. They had separated from their bones (and may be the bones themselves had cooked to mush 😉 ).
It was much past the lunch time, and my husband kept asking me "Is the lunch ready?" about a 100 million times. But see, the lunch was not ready. I still had to "dum" (steam cook) the biriyani for about 20 minutes.
To put it mildly, the end result was not as "impressive" as I had envisioned it to be. But, I guess, my husband was really "impressed" by the fact that I could torture the life out of a perfectly dead chicken 😉 .
After a few trial and errors and a lot of help from mom-in-law and sis-in-law (both experts in cooking biriyani ), I have figured out how to make chicken biriyani using this recipe.
In this recipe,the chicken and rice are cooked separately and then layered. The layers are then steam cooked (dum) on stove top.
Steam cooking the biriyani on the stove top was always a nightmare for me. There was always this lingering fear whether the rice will burn. But my friend Salma taught me this technique.
If you have an old big skillet, do not throw it away, you can save it for this step. What you do is heat a skillet (big enough to hold your pot with biriyani) and place the biriyani pot on the skillet. Since the vessel containing the biriyani is not directly on the stove top, the rice layer will not burn. This has worked perfectly for me every time. Thank you, Salma for the idea.
- 2 cups Basmati Rice
- 1 tbsp Butter You can use Ghee instead
- 2 tbsp Milk
- ¾ tsp Saffron
- Salt to taste
- 15 Peppercorns
- 8 Garlic Cloves medium sized. Remove the outer skin.
- 5 Cloves
- 5 Cardamom Pods remove the skin
- 2 tbsp Coriander Powder
- 2 Serrano Pepper add more for extra spice
- 2 inch Ginger wash and remove the skin
- 1 tsp Fennel Seeds or Saunf
- 1 inch Cinnamon
- 1.5 lbs Chicken cut into 2 inch pieces (approximately 600 gms)
- 2 Onions medium sized, sliced
- 5 tbsp Canola oil
- 5 tbsp Coconut fresh. Grated
- ¼ cup Yogurt
- ½ cup Chopped Mint Leaves
- ½ cup Chopped Cilantro
- Salt to taste
- ¼ cup Cashew Nuts
- ⅛ cup Raisins
- 1 Onion medium sized, sliced thin.
- 2 tbsp Canola oil
- pinch Salt
- Using a mortar and pestle or a mixer-grinder, crush all the ingredients for the marinade into a coarse paste.
- In a mixing bowl, mix the marinade with the chicken pieces to cover all the pieces. Keep it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Preparation for the ghee rice
- Wash the rice and soak it in water for 10 minutes.
- Drain the rice for about 20 minutes.
- Soak the saffron in milk. After 5-10 minutes of soaking saffron in milk, the color of the milk would turn yellow.
Prepare the garnish
- In a pan (you could use the same pan later to cook the chicken pieces), heat 2 tbsp oil and add the cashew nuts and roast them to a golden brown color. Drain and transfer to an absorbent paper.
- n the same pan, add raisins and remove when they fluff up. Remove from the oil and transfer to an oil absorbent paper.
- Next add the sliced onions and fry. You can sprinkle a little salt to speed up this process.When they turn brown and are caramelized enough, transfer them to an oil absorbent paper. The onions lose their crispiness when you drain on the absorbent paper. But, I prefer to do this to get rid of the excess oil.
Prepare the chicken gravy
- In the same pan where you roasted the garnish ingredients, add extra oil if necessary. Add the sliced onions for the chicken curry and saute till they turn translucent.
- Add the marinated chicken pieces and mix well. Add salt, cover with a lid and cook for 5-8 minutes.
- Meanwhile, grind the grated coconut to a very smooth paste using as little water as possible.
- Add yogurt, ground coconut, mint leaves and cilantro to the chicken. Stir to mix everything well. Cover with a lid and cook till the chicken is well done.
- When the chicken is cooked, you may have a lot of stock in the pan (though you have not added any water). Using a ladle transfer this stock from the pan to a measuring cup (this stock will be used later to prepare the ghee rice). Remove enough stock , but not all of it. We would still need some stock remaining in the chicken gravy to boil it further. (See Recipe Notes)
- Bring the chicken gravy to a boil again and remove from heat.
- Prepare ghee rice
- Heat butter/ghee in a pan and add soaked and drained rice and saute it for 2-3 minutes.
- To cook the rice you would need 4 cups of water (for every cup of rice, you need 2 cups of water). You can re-use the stock you had removed from the chicken gravy (step 5 of prepare the chicken gravy). Add additional water to make it 4 cups (for e.g., if you had removed 1 cup of stock from the chicken gravy, then you would need 3 additional cups of water to make it 4 cups). Along with the stock & water, add salt and the soaked saffron (along with the milk) to the rice.
- Transfer the above mixture to the rice cooker bowl and cook in the "white rice" setting. When the rice is cooked, "fluff" it gently using a fork.
- Grease a big cooking pot with a little oil.
- Layer half of the rice in the cooking pot.
- Add the chicken gravy layer.
- Layer the rest of the rice and and top the rice layer with the already prepared garnish (of roasted cashew nuts, raisins and caramelized onions). Close the cooking pot tightly with an Aluminum foil (typically the cooking pot is closed with a lid and sealed with dough).
- The next step is to steam cook these layers. Heat a skillet (big enough to hold your cooking pot) on high heat. Reduce the heat to low/very low heat setting. Place the cooking pot on the skillet. Steam cook for 15-20 minutes.
- Use a fork to 'fluff" and mix all the layers. Serve hot biriyani with raitha
Even if you do not get a lot of stock (to be later added while preparing ghee rice) to remove from the chicken gravy (step 5 of prepare the chicken gravy) - do not worry. You can use water to cook the rice.
Biriyani tastes good if you leave it to rest after preparing for 4-5 hours (or more if possible). Just reheat either in the microwave or in the oven just before serving.