I love me a biryani. I especially love sitting on my pert posterior, sucking on a Peroni and waiting for a man to bring me one in a car. Mostly they’re great, sometimes, spectacular, but often, they come disappointing. I’ve had too many overly greasy piles of mashed up basmati, with bits of obviously excess-from-another-curry, dried out, sad bits of what was once chicken breast nestled in the lank grains. I’ve got a few recipes that are really good, but most of them take ages to cook. I decided to come up with a recipe that incorporated all the aromatic spices of a biryani, but without so much of the fuss. I’ve seen a few methods knocking about for cooking basmati in the oven. So, using that as a basis, I’ve tried to use the idea of whacking everything together in one pan and chucking it in the oven.
For a long time now, I’ve tended towards using chicken thigh meat to breast. Breast has it’s place, but I’d suggest it be used in the same way steak is, cooked quickly on a high heat — though always cooked through — so it stays moist but tasty. Thigh meat is way more forgiving, especially when cooked for longer. In this recipe, I’ve used skin on, bone in thighs as the skin is just amazing cooked crispy and is responsible for a lot of the chickeny flavour, and the bone keeps it extra moist in the middle. Also, they’re a quid cheaper per kilo than the boned and skinned ones.
This curry is all about the spice blend. I don’t want to insult anyone from the sub-continent, or other traditionalists by saying mine is remotely authentic. All I’ve done is try to recreate the flavours I can taste in my favourite ones. The main flavours for me are cumin and coriander. The nutty, warm tones of the cumin, and the fragrant counterpoint in the coriander are especially heightened when they’re toasted. I’ve also thrown in a couple of cardomom pods for added fragrance, though I’ve split these and just used the seeds.
Toast them in a dry pan. This works better if you have a cast iron one, but if not, just be careful. You kind of want a very gentle amount of smoke to come off, and you’ll notice the smell change from floral to deeply nutty. Toss them a few times so they don’t burn, then drop them in a pestle and mortar with a bit of unground rock salt, or a spice grinder, and grind them down to a rough powder. Add the paprika for sweetness, turmeric for it’s earthiness, and cayenne pepper for a bit of kick. Give it a mix and reserve a bit for the rice.
Take a freezer bag with plenty of space for the chicken thighs and generously season with salt and pepper, chuck in the spices and the chicken and scroffle it around so they’re all covered. Fry the thighs skin side down on a medium-high heat in a big pan with a little tiny bit of your preferred oil until the skin is crispy. It’ll take 5-7 minutes. DO NOT TOUCH THEM. STOP IT. LEAVE THEM. NOT EVEN A POKE. PUT DOWN THE TONGS. Seriously, just leave them or the skin will end up soggy. When they’re nice and crispy, then you may turn them. Fry for a couple of minutes and remove.
Turn the pan down to medium-low and add the garlic, ginger and half the onion, diced. As soon as these bad boys hit the oil you’ll get that familiar scent in your nose hole. Let them cook gently for a few minutes until translucent, then throw in the reserved spices and the tomato purée and allow that to cook off for a few minutes. Then in goes the rice, like making a risotto, to soak up all of the aromatic oils from the pan. Allow it all to warm through and add the heated chicken stock, crushed bay leaves, and bang it in the oven at 170 Celsius for about ten to fifteen minutes.
Throughout this recipe, make sure you avoid any inquisitive dogs that may have infiltrated the kitchen demanding a piece of the action.
After ten minutes, check the rice. It should still be a bit wet and not cooked through yet. Nestle the part-cooked thighs on top, and back in the oven for another fifteen to twenty minutes, until the thighs are cooked through. A meat thermometer is awesome for this, otherwise, just make a cut down to the bone and make sure it’s not pink, or you’ll have a bad tummy. For the last five minutes, add the peas and stir through.
Once that’s done, you’ve got a biryani! Almost, anyway. Check the seasoning, mine needed a generous grind of salt.
To serve, rice, fried onions, chicken on top with a sprinkle of chopped coriander.
This was an experiment, but it worked better than I could have imagined. The spice balance was just right, the fried onions gave a little bit of extra savoury, the peas were little pockets of sweetness, and the chicken was juicy and spicy.The only criticism is that the rice was a bit over. I’ve adjusted the instructions to factor for this though, so yours should be better. Enjoy!
Serves: 2 or 4 with some naan bread maybe
4 Chicken thighs with bone and skin (adding a couple more wouldn’t make much difference)
150g of basmati rice (100g per person was a bit too much)
1 litre of chicken stock
2 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Coriander seeds
3 Cardamom pods, split, seeds removed, and husks discarded
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (adjust this to suit yourself. Half a teaspoon gave a gentle warmth.)
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic
About an inch of root ginger
A couple of bay leaves
A handful of frozen peas per person
A generous pinch of chopped fresh coriander leaf
- Toast the cumin, coriander, and cardamom seeds in a dry, heavy pan until they smell nutty and your mouth waters. Grind in a spice grinder or a pestle and mortar with a bit rock salt, then mix in turmeric, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Reserve two teaspoons of the spice mix.
- Into a freezer bag, or a bowl, add a generous grind of salt and pepper, enough to season the chicken thighs, and the rest of the spice mix. Add the chicken and toss until coated completely. Turn the oven on to heat up to 170 Celsius for a fan oven, 190 for normal.
- With a small amount of the oil of your choosing, fry the chicken over a medium-high heat in a pan big enough for the rice, skin side down until crispy. It should take 5 – 7 minutes, then turn, and do the other side for a couple of minutes. While this is going on, heat the chicken stock until just boiling, then take it off the heat.
- Once the chicken is cooked, remove it to a plate. Turn down the heat on the pan and add half the onion, diced; finely diced garlic; and finely diced ginger. Sauté gently until translucent. Add in the reserved spice mix and the tomato purée and stir for a couple of minutes.
- Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat for a few minutes. Pour in the stock, crush the bay leaves up in your hand and drop them in. Cover the pan and put in the oven for ten minutes.
- After ten minutes, check the texture of the rice, it should be wet, partially cooked but still hard in the middle. Check seasoning and adjust as necessary. It might need another five minutes or so, but I doubt it. Place the chicken thighs on the rice, cover it and back in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
- While it’s going, thinly slice the other half of the onion and fry in a bit of oil with some salt and pepper until it begins to brown gently. It should be savoury but still sweet and juicy. Also, chop the coriander roughly. With five minutes left, stir in the peas.
- To serve, pile up some rice, layer on some onions, then the chicken thighs, and sprinkle generously with coriander.
- Eat, with beer, or whatever.