Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chicken Biryani

While I'm a pro at eating Indian cuisine and love, love, love the amazing diversity of flavors and spices found in all the regional variations, I've always been daunted by the idea of cooking my fav Indian dishes all by myself without professional guidance. But the least one can do is try, no? It reminds me of my years of learning and still trying to master the art and technique of Chinese cooking, which also has many regional variations with staple ingredients and cooking methods, e.g., steaming, stir-fry, etc., that you use over and over again. With Indian food, I find that a key first step is heating the spices (often whole) in oil to release their aroma before adding the other ingredients. It's just not the same if you don't take the time to do this. Anyhoo, Chicken Biryani is a popular dish which is an amazing combination of spiced chicken over fragrant basmati rice, akin to a pilaf, but much more complex in flavor. Traditional Biryani uses bone-in chicken, but I adapted this recipe from Shubhra Ramineni's cookbook Entice with Spice, in which she uses boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I substituted the breasts with chicken thighs and changed around some of the ingredients and proportions. 

2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 2" pieces
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
3 bay leaves (use fresh if you can get it)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded than sliced
1 Fresno (or any fresh red) chile pepper, seeded and sliced
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cayenne
Biryani Masala*
4 tbsp. plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
Juice of 1 small lime 
1/2 cup cilantro
2 tbsp. unsalted butter

*Biryani Masala (spice mix):
1 tsp. whole cloves
10 whole green cardamom pods
1 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. coriander seed
1/2 piece of cinnamon stick

Basmati Rice:
2 cups Basmati rice, rinsed and drained
3 cups water
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro and/or mint
3 tbsp. oil

1. First make the Biryani Masala: Toast all the spices in a dry skillet over medium high to high heat for about 1 minute until fragrant (stir constantly with a wooden spoon to keep the spices from burning). Remove skillet from heat and set aside for 10-15 minutes until somewhat cooled. Place in a coffee bean/spice grinder and blend into a fine powder. Set aside.

2. For the Chicken: Melt the butter in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add the garlic ginger, 1/2 sliced red onion, bay leaves, and fresh chile peppers. Saute until the onion is translucent. 

3. Add the chicken, turmeric, cayenne, Biryani Masala and cook until chicken is lightly browned. Add the Greek yogurt, salt, sugar, lime juice, and cilantro. Toss to combine, cook about 1 -2 minutes. Pour the chicken into a bowl and set aside. Rinse/wipe out the skillet for use in cooking the rice.

4. For the Rice: Place the rice in a colander and rinse under cold tap water several times. Let drain before using. Heat 3 tbsp. oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Add the sliced onion and chopped cilantro and/or mint and cook for 2-3 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add the drained rice and toss well until all the grains are coated with the oil. Add the water, stir briefly, then cover the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 3-5 minutes or until the rice is partially cooked (reduced down to where there's still a thin layer of water over the rice). Add the chicken and all of the accumulated juices to the rice, stir briefly just to combine, cover, then bring back up to a simmer. Simmer, undisturbed (don't lift the cover) for 15-20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat. 

5. Garnish with cilantro and serve with lime wedges, cilantro chutney http://thegrubfiles.blogspot.com/2012/09/samosa-potato-green-pea-croquettes-with.html or mango chutney http://thegrubfiles.blogspot.com/2013/09/mango-chutney.html on the side. 

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs. 

Trim and cut the chicken into 2" pieces. 

Masala spices: Fennel seed, cinnamon stick, coriander seed, green cardamom pods, whole cloves. 

Toast the Biryani spices.

Place in a coffee/spice grinder.

Blend to a fine powder. 

Heat the butter in a pan and sauté onion, garlic, ginger, fresh chiles, and bay leaves.  

Add the chicken and spices and cook until the chicken is lightly browned. 

Add the yogurt, salt, sugar, lime juice, and cilantro.  

Rinse and drain the Basmati rice. 

Saute the chicken for 1-2 minutes until cooked through. 

Remove the chicken to a bowl and set aside. 

Clean out the pan, and heat 3 tbsp. vegetable oil. Add the onion slices and chopped fresh cilantro.  

When the onion is translucent, add the rinsed and drained rice. Stir well to coat the rice grains with the oil. 

Add 3 cups of water.  

Stir then cover and simmer 3-5 minutes or until rice is partially cooked (should be just a thin layer of water over the rice).

Gently stir in the chicken mixture (juice and all). 

Cover and continue cooking (simmer) 15-20 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Hmmm...on second thought, this is more like a paella than a pilaf.

Remove from heat and serve immediately. Garnish with lime wedges. Great served with cilantro and/or mango chutney on the side.

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