Although considered an everyday dish in many South Asian countries, cooking lamb biryani can be a challenge especially because the list of ingredients is long and can be intimidating. But it is really worth the effort. Since lamb biryani is a complete meal, just think of all the work as the equivalent amount of work you’d be doing if you were cooking the rice, vegetable dish and meat dish separately.
The secret to good biryani is to cook everything in as little liquid as possible so that the meat, rice and vegetables practically cook in their own juices. Traditionally, a long strip of dough is wound around the edges of the pan before the lid is put in place so that no steam escapes during cooking. It’s a little bit laborious — I just use a pan with the most snug fitting lid.
It is also important to choose a tender cut of meat and to cut them into small pieces to farther facilitate cooking. Tough cuts that take more than an hour to cook might still be tough by the time the rice is done and all the liquid in the pot has been absorbed.
- 3/4 kilo meaty lamb with some bones for better flavor (chicken or other poultry, pork, beef, goat, mutton or veal may be substituted), cut into one-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 cup yogurt
- 2 cups long-grain rice soaked in water for several hours then drained
- 3 to 4 cloves
- 3 to 4 cardamom pods peeled
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 star anise
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic finely minced
- 4 to 6 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or butter
- a handful of mint leaves roughly chopped
- a handful of cilantro (stems, roots and leaves), roughly chopped
- 1/2 to 3/4 chicken broth
- juice of two limes or lemons
- 1 carrot diced
- 1 cup sweet peas
- salt to taste
- whole cilantro leaves and toasted chopped cashew nuts to garnish
Place the meat in a bowl. Season with all the marinating ingredients. Leave to marinate for at least an hour.
Heat half of the ghee or butter in a pan. Cook the mint leaves and cilantro until softened, about two minutes. Set aside.
In an oil-free pan, toast the cloves, cardamon, fennel seeds, start anise and coriander seeds until nutty in aroma. Cool a bit then grind. You can use a mortar and pestle if you’re feeling rustic — I prefer the food processor.
Heat the remaining half of the ghee or butter. Saute the ground spices with the onion and garlic.
Add the rice and stir to coat each grain with oil.
Pour in the remaining cup of yogurt, half cup of broth and the lime or lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt; how much depends on how well-seasoned the broth is.
Scoop out about half of the rice. Scatter the carrot and peas over the rice in the pan, followed by the mint leaves and cilantro. Cover with the rice that had been scooped out.
Scatter the meat — with the marinade — on top of the second layer of rice.
Cover tightly and cook over medium-low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. No peeking. The juice of the meat and the marinade will drip down slowly into the rice and vegetables as they all cook in the steam and pressure inside the covered pan. That’s the secret so no peeking and no stirring.
After 45 minutes, remove the lid and test the rice and meat for doneness. If longer cooking is needed and the liquids have dried out, pour in the remaining quarter cup of broth, replace the cover and cook for another 15 minutes.
Stir lightly when done to separate the rice grains.
Garnish the lamb biryani with cilantro and toasted cashew nuts before serving.