The first time I cooked lamb biryani was sometime during the last quarter of 2005 after viewing an episode of Globe Trekker in the Travel & Living Channel. Floyd was in India and he visited this rich guy who cooked lamb biryani for the show. He cooked it the traditional way, lining the pan’s edges with dough before putting the cover to prevent steam from escaping. That was almost two years ago. Long-time readers of Home Cooking Rocks! will probably remember that in December of 2005, all my blogs suffered from a massive technical problem and I lost four months’ worth of entries, the lamb biryani recipe among them. I think it’s about time I post a new lamb biryani entry1.
Most biryani recipes call for boneless lamb meat. I used stewing lamb, bones and all, for two reasons. First, unless I am willing to carve lamb from the bone, there’s no way I can get boneless lamb meat in the Philippines. Lamb is sold here pre-cut as chops, stew, whole ribs and leg. Second, since the first step in making biryani is to cook the lamb as a stew, isn’t it a better idea to use a cut that includes bones? The bones will flavor the sauce in a way that boneless meat never can.
That said, let’s cook the lamb biryani.
To cook for four, you will need:
a kilo of stewing lamb
a whole garlic
2 large onions
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp. cayenne (use less if you want a less spicy biryani)
1/2 tsp. of cumin
1 tsp. of turmeric
1/2 tsp. of coriander (I often substitute a bunch of chopped coriander leaves1)
6 tbsps. of ghee (click here for instructions on how to make ghee)
1-1/2 c. of long-grain rice
about 2 cups of coconut milk2
1/4 c. of sultanas or raisins3
1/2 c. almonds or cashew nuts, optional
Place the lamb in a bowl. Season with salt and lots of freshly-ground pepper.
Peel and roughly chop the onions. Crush, peel and finely mince the garlic.
Heat the ghee in a wide cooking pan (a wok is ideal). Add the seasoned lamb and cook until lightly browned around the edges. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions start to soften. Pour in enough water to cover. Add the turmeric, cayenne, cinnamon stick and cumin. Stir well and bring to the boil. Add the coriander leaves. Stir, lower the heat and cover tightly. Simmer for an hour to an hour and a half or until the lamb is tender and very little liquid is left.
When the lamb is tender, pour in the coconut milk and stir. Taste and add more salt, if necessary. Remember that you will be adding the rice and you need enough salt to flavor the rice.
Add the uncooked rice to the stew. This is where it gets tricky. You want the rice to cook in the liquid in the stew and you really cannot afford too much steam to escape because that will result in undercooked rice. Although it is tempting to just add water to compensate for the steam, too much water will result in mushy rice. You want the rice to be cooked through, fluffy but rather dry.
As I mentioned before, the traditional way to seal in the liquid is to line the edge of the pan with dough. Too much work for me. What I do is to cover the pan with aluminum foil with the edges tucked as tightly as I can manage without burning my hands on the hot pan. Then, I put on the lid.
After 15 to 20 minutes, the rice should be done. Stir lightly — do NOT press on the rice. Take a large fork and rake through the rice all the way to the bottom of the pan to distribute the pieces of lamb.
Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with nuts5 and serve.
1The photos are circa 2005.
2There is more than one variety of coriander leaves (cilantro). The more common one, known locally as wansuy, are round with curvy edges. Vietnamese coriander leaves, the kind you see in the first photo of this entry, are about two inches long and half an inch wide with smooth edges.
3If you’re coco-phobic, substitute yogurt, although I doubt if the flavor will be comparable.
4The one and only time I added raising to lamb biryani, my daughters complained.
5Toasted almond slices is recommended.