Murgh Biryani (Chicken Biryani)

Dearest Rinki,

On April 8, 1981, one of my mother’s great-aunts passed away. Two years after the incident on her second anniversary, her husband showed his regard for his partner of forty three years by doing something extraordinarily beautiful. Kings of yore may have built marble edifices, but he a simple ordinary man did what he could do best. He painstakingly collected and documented his wife’s recipes from over a period of 37 years and had each one typed and bound into a recipe book. He then proceeded to gift a copy of this book to all of his wife’s loved ones. The amazing fact is that, Madhusrava Das Gupta, a South Indian ‘non meat eating’ Brahmin, did not know how to cook when she got married and yet she left behind this impressive culinary legacy of almost five hundred recipes of which more than half are scrumptious meat dishes. She loved to cook and she cooked with love. She toiled in the kitchen to feed her friends, family and neighbors. Her book has such a vast array of recipes from snacks to jams, ice creams, sweet-meats ,fish and meat dishes from all over India, as well as what was then called continental food…or the sahib food of the British Raj like Bread and Butter Pudding, Roast chicken, Treacle tarts, and even a Baked Egg Custard for Baby! This much loved; dog eared book was passed on to me by my mother exactly a decade ago right after I got married. The action, may have been precipitated by the fact that, stuck in the middle of cooking something, I would call her long distance every day, from Santiniketan to Delhi to ask what I should do next. In recent times, the internet or apps on the phone may have become an easy source to access more exotic food. But when it comes to old favorites, Madhu didu’s (grandmother) book is still my bible. I met her only once when I was a small kid, yet her food has talked to me across decades. Some of her recipes like Mutton Biryani, I know by heart, and it has occupied a place of pride in my repertoire.  I had occasion to make it just a few days back, and felt that writing about it here was a befitting tribute to the umbilicus called food.

Chicken Biryani

Murgh Biryani

Biryani is found in different avatars all over the country. Although there is no single fixed recipe for it, there is a logic which runs as the thread. It is usually a meat, chicken or fish and rice dish, usually slow cooked in a Handi (metal or earthen-ware pot). And it is usually served with a side dish of Raita or other kebabs. The one shared here was initially learnt from the cookbook I have talked about above, yet over the years it has undergone several changes according to my own tastes and preferences…This is a chicken biryani, but this can easily be replaced by mutton(goats meat), lamb or beef.

Ingredients (for 8 servings)

Chicken                                                                      2kg

Rice (long grained basmati)                             1kg

Potatoes                                                                    1 per person

Sour curd (yoghurt)                                             500gms

Onions (halved and thinly sliced)                   600gms + 400gms

Ginger + Garlic paste                                            2tbsp+2tbsp

Garam Masala powder                                         4 tsp

Kashmiri chili powder                                          4 tsp

Cumin powder                                                          4tsp

Coriander powder                                                  4 tsp

Whole spices: Cardamom 4-5, Cloves 4-5, Cinnamon 2 sticks, Bay leaf 2

Green chilies deseeded and julienned           6-7

Ghee (clarified butter, melted)                      2tbsp (the more the better!)

Cashew nuts, fried in ghee                             50 gm

Raisins                                                                    50 gm

Coriander and Mint                                        1 bunch each

Sugar                                                                     1 tsp

Juice of 4-5 Lemons and 2-3 tbsp Rose Water

100 mg Saffron strands soaked in 2 tbsp warm milk

Salt to taste

White Oil to cook

Method

Wash and marinade the meat in the yoghurt. Add salt enough for the meat, half of all the Powder Masalas (spices), half of the ginger garlic paste. Marinate for 1 hour if chicken and 2-3 hours for other meats.

Fry the 400 gm of onions to a crisp golden brown, in small batches. Mix half of this with the marinated meat. Reserve the rest for garnish.

Cut the potatoes into half lengthwise. Deep fry to golden brown, keep aside.

In a large pot heat approx. 250ml oil, add the sugar and let it caramelize, add the cardamom and cloves, next add the 500gm finely chopped onions and fry till soft and golden. Add the remaining ginger garlic paste and the remaining chili powder, Coriander powder and the cumin powder. Fry the masala stirring often, till it changes color, reduces, and the oil separates from it. Add the marinated meat, stir and slow cook covered. (At this stage add a little more salt for the masala and the potatoes) Stir occasionally. Arrange the potatoes on the top of the meat and cover and cook on slow fire. After fifteen minutes check the potatoes, if done take them out and keep aside.  Cook till meat is tender and the gravy thickened and oil has risen to the top. Now take out the meats and keep in a dish, and reserve all the gravy.

Wash the rice delicately. Boil a pot full of water with salt, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. You must not let the rice cook completely. The rice has to be taken out while it is still undercooked. It will cook in its own steam. If the rice is cooked well, then finally it will become soft and soggy. Check the rice; it should still have a white core in the center. Pour it out into a colander to drain the water.

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Traditionally Biryani is arranged and served in a handi. If you have one, it’s good otherwise a deep large pot with a lid will do. Arrange in front of you all the following:

(a) The meat and the gravy

(b) Rest of the crispy fried onions, fried cashew, raisins, julienned chili, mint and coriander   leaves, melted ghee, rose water, lemon juice and the garam masala.

Layer the bottom of the pan with an inch of rice, over this sprinkle a little of all the (b) ingredients. Then arrange a few meat pieces and gravy. Layer with the rice. Then again ingredients (b), on top of this the meat and gravy, and again rice…till all your rice and meat is used up. The top layer is rice. Over this arrange the potatoes and a final sprinkling of (b).Cover and stand the pot on the very slow fire, or you can put it in the oven for further fifteens twenty minutes.

Serve hot with Raita.

 I hope you will make this wonderful flavorsome and hearty dish. Trust me, it is guaranteed to make your home a favorite destination of all your friends !

Love you

Didi

Mochar Ghonto (Banana Flower/Blossom with Potato)

Dear Didi and Daibi,

I am proudly writing today to inform you both that I made the famed Mochar Ghonto without Ma’s supervision for the first time!!! Most people think that Mocha or Banana Blossom/Flower and Thod or Banana plant stem which is another of our Bengali delicacies are very difficult to make.  I learned to cook both under Ma’s supervision and realised that both of them are actually not that difficult once you know what to keep and what to discard.  So in this post I will explain each step of the recipe individually for easier comprehension. To serve 6 people you need 1 Banana Blossom/Flower, 1/2 cup whole bengal gram (I didn’t have this, so I used its shelled and split variety called the chana daal), 4-5 medium sized Potatoes cut into cubes, a stick of cinnamon, 2 green cardamom pods, 2 dried bay leaves, whole red chilli, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 3-4 tbsp of ghee (clarified butter), oil, turmeric, salt and sugar.

Mochar Ghonto with Arhar Daal, Rice and Pappad

The Mocha or the Banana flower is like any other flower with many petals.

Each petal or bract has to be peeled and the flowers must be removed. Try to remove the whole stack of flower together like in the picture below as then it is easier to clean it.

Hold the whole bunch together, single out each flower and pull the black/brown looking stamen out.  The fresher the flower, the lighter the colors, so don’t worry about the color.  Just look for the hard stamen and remove it.

Once all the stamens are removed, the cleaned bunch looks like this.

Keep peeling the bracts/petals and the flower bunches till you reach the soft heart.  From this point onwards the petals/bracts and the stamens get very soft and tender.  It is difficult to separate these tender parts. So you cut it into very very thin slices.

Now while cutting this part, you would see very fine thread like stuff coming out or sticking to your knife like in the picture below.  This can be rolled with a finger and removed or could be left just like that – it doesn’t matter actually.

Then chop the flowers also into small pieces.

Then soak all of it in water with 1 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp salt overnight (I soaked it for 6 hours).  The flower is very high in iron content, so if cooked without soaking, it leaves the mouth bitter and weird…like you have eaten lots of plain spinach…in bengali we say, muukh ta koshey gailo…as in the mouth gets dry…At this time soak the lentils/bengal gram in water as well (minimum time – 5 hrs).

Then drain the water and pressure cook or slow cook in fresh water for 15-20 mins or till soft.  Drain it again.

Boiled flowers, chana daal and potato cubes

In a pan, heat 2-3 tbsp oil and add the whole spices and chillis.  Remember to break open and slightly crush the cardamom pods for maximum flavor.

Then add the potatoes, turmeric and a little bit of salt. Fry for 5 mins on high heat and add the soaked lentils and the boiled flowers.  Mix well, season according to taste. Now many Bengalis like it sweet (and I think it tastes the best this way), so I added 2 tbsp of sugar in it. But if you don’t want it sweet, you could add according to taste.

Mix well, add 2-3 tbsp of ghee, cover and cook on medium heat for 20 mins while occasionally stirring the pot.  When everything is cooked well, use a wooden spatula to mash everything well and add 1 tbsp of ghee again.  Serve hot with rice, daal and pappad.

Variations:  Many people add dessicated coconut or badi (Lentil nuggets) to this recipe instead of bengal gram or chana daal.  Also, the mashed version serves as a great stuffing for vegetable cutlets or can be turned into tikkis that are great snacks and appetizers!!

Didi, I know you know how to make this..but Daibi this post is mainly for you, so that wherever you are in the world, you can try making this favorite dish of yours!

Sending lots of love,

Rinki