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

Exotic Indian Chutneys

1.  Hot and Spicy Shrimp Chutney

Shrimp                      100 gm, cleaned

Garlic                         2-3 pods(tweak according to taste)

Green Chili               2-3

Onion                         1

Cumin Seed              1/4 tsp

Lemon Juice and Salt to taste

Oil                                1 tsp

Method 

heat the oil,add the shrimps and fry on low heat till crisp and red. Grind together with all other ingredients adding just a few drops of water.It should be thick and smooth in texture. Add salt and lemon juice.

2.  Groundnut ( Peanut) Chutney

Groundnuts                                   100gm

Dry Red Chilli                               1-2

Garlic                                                1-2

Lemon juice and Salt to taste

Method

Grind the peanuts with garlic and chilies , adding very little water. Add lemon juice and salt.

3.  Coconut Chutney

Fresh coconut grated/small pieces                100gm

Dry-Roasted Chick Pea                                         a small fistful

Yogurt                                                                          3 tbsp

Ginger                                                                            1- 1 inch piece

Green chili                                                                    1

Black mustard seeds                                               1 tsp

Asafoetida                                                                    pinch

Curry leaves                                                                few

Dry red chili                                                                 1

Sesame oil/ white oil                                               1 tsp

Salt to taste

Method

Grind the coconut, ginger, chick pea, with the yogurt to fine paste. Do not add water. Take out into the serving bowl, add salt to taste.

To prepare the temper,In a small pan heat the oil, once it is smoking hot take off the heat and add the black mustard seeds, asafoetida, dry red chili and curry leaves. Once the mustard starts spluttering pour over the chutney.

4. Tangy Indian Salad Dressing (1/2 cup)

Lemon Juice                                                         2 tbsp (for an extra tang, add more)

Olive oil                                                                  5 tbsp

Mustard paste (homemade or ready made) 1-2 tbsp depending on the pungency

Ginger                                                                     1tbsp grated

Garlic                                                                       1 pod grated

Coriander Powder                                             1 tsp (optional)

Sugar                                                                       1 tsp

Yoghurt                                                                  2 tbsp

Salt and Pepper to taste

Method

Mix all in a quarter size bowl and beat well with a fork for 5 mins. Let is stand for 10 mins as it would allow the flavors to infuse well. This can be stored in the fridge for a week.

 

5.   Bengali Style Sweet Tomato Chutney

Tomatoes (blanched, peeled & chopped)              6-8

Sugar                                                                                     1-2 tbsp

Raisins                                                                                  a few

Dates                                                                                    a few (deseeded and chopped)

Ginger                                                                                  1 inch square, julienned

Black Mustard Seeds                                                      ½ tsp

Whole dry red chili                                                          1

Chili powder                                                                       pinch

Oil (vegetable)                                                                  2 tsp

Salt to taste

Method

In a wok/pan heat oil, add the mustard. Once it splutters, add the whole dry red chili and ginger. Fry for half a minute, add the chopped tomatoes, sugar, chili powder and salt to taste. Cover with a lid; simmer on low heat till the tomatoes are pulpy. Now add the raisins and dates. Simmer for a few more minutes and remove from heat. Serve hot or cold. This chutney should be a little syrupy.

6. Roasted Brinjal (Aubergine) Chutney

Brinjal (aubergine)                                                          1-2

Onion finely diced                                                           1

Garlic                                                                                     2-3 pods per brinjal

Coriander leaves (cilantro)                                           1 bunch finely chopped

Green chili                                                                          2(deseeded and finely chopped)

Ginger                                                                                  1/2 inch piece finely grated

Mustard Oil                                                                        1 tsp

Salt to taste

 

Method

Make gashes in the aubergine and insert the garlic pods. Coat with a little oil and roast on naked flame or in oven. Take out, remove the skin and grind to paste along with ginger. Add the finely diced onions, chopped coriander, oil, chili and salt. Serve with hot steamed rice. You may substitute Olive oil in place of Mustard oil.

 

 7. Quick Aam Kasundi (Raw Mango and Mustard Chutney)

Raw Mangoes                                                                   2-3, peeled, pitted and chopped

Black/White Mustard Seeds                                        2 tbsp

Mustard Oil                                                                        2 tbsp

Salt to taste

Method

Blend the mangoes to a paste, do not add water. Separately grind the mustard seeds to a thick paste. In a wok heat the oil, add the mango pulp, cook for a few minutes. Add the mustard paste, salt and simmer till thickened. Serve cooled.

Alternative Recipe

Ingredients same, except oil is increased to 1 cup and mustard seeds are dry ground.

Mix the blended mango paste and mustard paste. Add the oil and salt. Pour into a sterilized glass jar and keep in sun for a few weeks. Keeps well for a long time.

 

 8. Sweet and Sour Tamarind Chutney

Tamarind paste (Imli)                                                     3 tbsp

Sugar/ Jaggery (gur)                                                       2 tbsp

Red Chili Powder                                                              1 tsp

Dry Ginger Powder (Saunth)                                       1 tsp

Water                                                                                   ½ cup

Salt to taste

Method

To make tamarind paste, soak a large fistful of dry tamarind in a cup of hot water. Let it sit for ten minutes, Using your fingers squeeze it into a pulp. Strain.

Thin the Tamarind paste with the water, add the sugar or jagerry, red chili powder, dry ginger powder, salt. Boil till it becomes syrupy. The taste should be tangy, sweet and sour. The sourness depends a lot on the quality of tamarind, so adjust the sugar accordingly.

 

Hot and spicy Mint chutney

Mint 1 large bunch( the leaves picked from the stems)

1 Raw mango, stoned and cubed ( in case raw fresh mango is unavailable, you can use lemon juice/tamarind pulp/raw mango powder)

2-3 green chilies

salt to taste

Method

blend all the ingredients together to a fine paste, adding the minimum amount of water.

Store in a lidded container in the fridge. Stays for two to three days.

use with all Indian savory snacks