Lamb biryani

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. Lamb biryani

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)
freshly-ground pepper
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. cooking the lamb stew

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 rice to the stew

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. lamb biryani

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.


  1. eatit1s says

    The idea of substitutions is to replicate a taste or texture lost from a missing ingredient. The coriander leaf (herb) cannot replicate the taste of the coriander powder/seed (spice) as they taste vastly different from each other despite coming from the same plant.

    I assume when Connie creates her recipes that each ingredient she includes is vital to the dish to make it taste what it’s suppose to. Considering how important spices are in Indian cooking, I have no doubt that the 1/2 tsp. coriander would add another depth of flavor to the dish.

    It’s not about following rules, but I would like to taste the dish the way the author intended.

  2. says

    eatit1s, “The idea of substitutions is to replicate a taste or texture lost from a missing ingredient.”

    Not necessarily. Substitution is done so that a dish can conform to the personal tastes of the cook. Same reason for omission or addition of ingredients not found in the recipe source.

    “It’s not about following rules, but I would like to taste the dish the way the author intended.”

    And who may that author be? Do you know know many authentic biryani variations there are depending on which region of India they originate from? LOL

  3. eatit1s says

    “Not necessarily. Substitution is done so that a dish can conform to the personal tastes of the cook. Same reason for omission or addition of ingredients not found in the recipe source.”

    At that point, you’re not merely substituting but adapting a recipe.

    And who may that author be?

    You, I think. We are talking about the lamb biryani recipe posted on your blog.

    I think, perhaps, what you are meaning to say is that the 1/2 tsp. coriander doesn’t make much difference to the recipe that it can be omitted but adding coriander leaves tastes nice, too?

    • says

      eatit1s, LOL so you’re not only dictating what can and cannot be included, you also have to dictate what word should be used to describe what was done.

      Re “I think, perhaps, what you are meaning to say is that the 1/2 tsp. coriander doesn’t make much difference to the recipe…”

      No, dear, it’s because they’re not always available.

      “…adding coriander leaves tastes nice, too?”

      yes, just perfect for me and my family.

      should i point out the inconsistencies in your comments? you said, “but I would like to taste the dish the way the author intended.” then you go on to say that I AM the author. then, cook it the way I did if you want to taste it the way I intended. Of course, I always prefer that each cook add, subtract and substitute to suit their own taste.

      @Ria, oh exactly!

      @Gay, even Indian cookbooks and food blogs don’t have a uniform recipe for biryani. Just like no two Filipino cooks will cook adobo in exactly the same way.

      @Banjolina, meaning? Say it straight and I’ll give you a straight answer as well.

  4. says

    “And who may that author be? Do you know know many authentic biryani variations there are depending on which region of India they originate from? LOL”

    I agree with you. I work for an international organization, and foreigners often complain of the food. I once sat for lunch with a group of Indian scholars and the head of the scholars office. Naturally the topic was about the food, how the Indian cuisine were not really good, etc… So the scholars’ office head, ask them, how do you cook biryani? There were many suggestions and they couldn’t agree on one way to cook it!

  5. banjolina says

    one good thing about that one food blogsite that i regularly visit (and use her recipes as well – all the time), is that she’s always open to suggestions, and respects personal views. but then again, thats just me. peace!

  6. joan says

    i agree to ms.connie that there will be no two cooks will cook in exactly the same if ms.connie wants to add coriander leaves and eatit1s wants to add coriander,each of them has no right to say that what the other one has done is not right or it cant be done.i believe that each cook has its own taste,preference and idea as well,so i think that eatit1s is wrong to say that ms.connie is wrong or it cant be done,it is a matter of respect..

    to eatit1s,if you dont prefer coriander leaves as what ms.connie has done,just dont do it and substitute what you prefer,but never said it can’t be..because it is ms.connie’s choice.much better if you say..i cook it with coriander instead of coriander leaves and it tastes much better..”as it must sound personal opinion…and i do believe ms.connie would understand your personal opinion..but it is a big NO NO to insist for something or to correct that it cannot be…

    as what ms.connie told,and as what i observed too,ms.connie always prefer that each cook add,subtract and substitute to suit their own taste…she never insist to use for something nor say it cant be…

    eatit1s,hope you would closed your argument and just respect ms.connie’s preference…just cook the way you want to and never argument what is can and cannot be…just accepting one’s fault will do.

    more power to ms.connie and belated happy bday,

    i learned an exchange of ideas from both of you..thanks anyway…

    ms.connie,as what everything i said,do i sound one-sided?

    • Rose says

      Late again, as usual… but nowhere on this recipe does Connie said that it’s “authentic” or anything, so surely the substitution isn’t a big deal since she’s also put the original ingredient in there.

  7. says

    Thank you, Joan. I hope Banjolina reads your comment and choke on her statement about open-mindedness.

    Hayaan mo na sya, Rose. There will always be people na makapintas na lang o maka-kontra na lang. Purists think they have the ONLY say in everything.

  8. Aubrey says

    I quite agree with your point Ms. Connie. I am not an experienced cook, but when I do get cooking advices from other people who’s not my grandma or my mom ( of course their way of cooking will be different from my grandma’s/mom’s) I try to substitute or add what I was used to. Like with ginisang munggo, some of my friends think I’m weird for putting sampalok mix to add a bit of sour taste but that was how I knew ginisang munggo was cooked. My husband actually told me one that a few of my dishes tasted different from his mom’s but not in a bad way. He said said that the way I cooked some dishes were actually tasted the way he wanted it to be.
    I love your site Ms. Connie. Ignore those who do not understand. PEACE !!!

  9. Rose says

    I wouldn’t substitute the ground coriander with coriander leaves since they taste completely different, even though the leaves makes for a tasty dish the coriander seeds gives that certain depth of flavour. I guess it’s all personal preference at the end of the day. I like to sprinkle the coriander afterwards for a bit of colour, though.

  10. says

    There are recipes that use both the seeds and the leaves, and the leaves are not added as a garnish either but is cooked with the stew. Haven’t tried doing it that way though.

  11. eatit1s says

    I agree with Rose, you can’t substitute coriander seeds with coriander leaves. Substitutions can only be made if they come from the same plant part (leaves, mostly) such as thyme, basil, oregano, etc..

  12. says

    Here we go again. Rules about what CAN and CANNOT be done. Americans substitute yogurt for coconut milk — do they come from the same plant?

    eatit1s, you might prefer not to substitute but to say it CANNOT be done is something else. I don’t buy that because it limits imagination. Rules like that are for cooks who follow 1-2-3 kind of cooking. I never do that. The only thing that counts for me is the end result — how the cooked dish tastes.

  13. Alrenwald says

    Thank you for this recipe (and many other recipes I have enjoyed reading here). I hardly cook any dishes with lamb simply because it is quite expensive (and I live in Arizona)…but this recipe might just “tempt” me to buy some two pounds worth :) Also, I wonder if chicken would be a worthwhile substitute?

    I am glad I found your website. You’re doing an amazing job of deconstructing many of the recipes–they all sound so delicious, and have inspired me to return to my kitchen and cook more Filipino dishes for my family.

  14. Issa says

    Hi Connie! I was about to ask you also if I could use other meat but Alrenwald beat me to it!

    I would like to greet you belated happy birthday! My husband’s birthday is also in October. I would like to thank you because I used all your recipes for the food that we served to our friends and family — Baked Macaroni, Lengua w/ mushroom sauce, embutido and the dipping sauce for your grilled tilapia! They really enjoyed it! Sayang lang, I wasn’t able to take pics. =(

    More power to you!

  15. Rose says

    Seriously, eatit… I only said that I *personally* wouldn’t do it that way. Life’s too short to play by the rules.

  16. says

    Have you tried making chicken tikka masala? Indian dish that originated in England because the English couldn’t take the “real” Indian curries.

    It’s so good the dish is now popular in India and in the US.

    Anyhoo nabanggit lang naman.

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