Hyderabadi Biryani

I dont know how the past week just flew by....aah, yeah, most of the last two weeks went by in taking care of my lil one who was down with a viral fever. It can be such a mood killer especially  if you have to stay indoors even during a weekend. So after almost ten days of illness & boredom (which comes free with illness when you have nothing else to do) and battling with a three year old to take his medicines, we thought we should celebrate with a Biryani for lunch or dinner as soon as we could. Sure enough, Sunday came trotting along and without too much thought or prior planning, I set out to prepare the Biryani - this time it was a recipe from  a book that I had gifted hubbykins when we dated and which he had never made use of even once :-( I had picked up the book from a book exhibition in Bangalore eons ago and it was sitting pretty on my bookshelf all these years. I thought that the book deserved a chance, at least once. I am glad I wasn't disappointed. I was amazed at the huge collection of rice recipes the author has put together with a special focus on Moghul, Lucknowi, Awadhi & Hyderabadi recipes - all categorised under Chicken, Meat, Fish & Vegetarian. I am yet to try some more recipes from that book and so I'll save the review for later.

At this point I think it is imperative that we know the difference between a Biryani & a Pulao (or Pilaf). The difference between the two is the technique used in cooking the rice. The Pulao is made by cooking the rice in exactly measured water, starting by frying the rice in ghee (clarified butter) along with whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, anise etc) and then adding preboiled water or broth/stock and cooking the rice completely. It is then layered or mixed along with the main ingredient (chicken, fish, meat, vegetables).

Biryani on the other hand uses par boiled (cooked three fourth) rice boiled in plenty of (unmeasured) water and then assembled with the main ingredients. This method involves the par boiled rice to be placed over the almost cooked meat. The vessel is then sealed with aluminium foil or tightly sealed with dough and put on a 'dum' (cooked on slow fire for 30-45 minutes so that all the flavours amalgamate well). This process helps the rice to cook completely. Once done, the pot is allowed to sit for 5 minutes before it is opened & served.

So technically while the Pulao uses the 'absorption' technique of cooking the rice, the Biryani uses the 'draining' technique.

The success of a Biryani always depends on the quality of rice used, so always try to use the best quality. Use of desi ghee and good quality spices also help bring out the best flavours. The process also involves preparation of the 'Birista' which is finely sliced onions that are deep fried to golden brown which impart a unique richness & flavour to the Biryani.

For now, try this heavy duty Biryani (with all its richness & royal splendour) and you will be surprised at how this mildly spiced fragrant rice exudes such delicate flavours. So much better than ordering a greasy Biryani from your local restaurant. Most of them taste so similar that it's hard to tell each one from the other. No wonder Royalty always made sure their recipes were always well guarded secrets and were treated as family heirlooms passed down only to daughters-in-law and never to the daughters.

Hyderabadi Biryani
Recipe Source: Pulaos and Biryanis by Katy Dalal
You Need:
For the rice:
For the marination:
For the masala:

Marinating & cooking the Mutton:
1. Cut the mutton into medium size pieces, wash & drain well
2. Make a marinade of thick curd, red chilli powder, ginger garlic paste, lime juice and salt (to taste) and apply it to the mutton pieces well. Keep it aside for at least 2 hours.
3. In a wok/kadai heat some ghee and fry the sliced onions well till golden brown. Drain well & remove on an absorbent kitchen towel. Allow to cool for a few minutes - they will turn crispy. Sprinkle a pinch of garam masala. Crush them in a mixer grinder and add them to the marinating meat.
4. Next grind all the dry ingredients of the masala and add the wet ingredients & swirl it into a fine paste. Add this masala to the marinating meat.
5. It is ideal if you can cook the meat on slow fire, but this could take over an hour and half. To cut short the cooking time, I pressure cooked the marinated mutton as follows:
In a sufficiently large cooker, heat some ghee and fry the mutton pieces for about 2 minutes & add all the masala which was marinating along with it and mix well. There is no need to add additional water - if you wish you can add 1/2 a cup of water and mix again. Close the lid of the cooker, place the weight (whistle) and pressure cook on full flame for 10minutes or till the first whistle goes off. Reduce flame & cook for another 15-20 minutes (if you get tender meat) or till meat is done.

Cooking the rice:
1. Wash the rice and soak it for 10-15 minutes. Drain & keep.
2. Warm up the 1 cup of milk. On a hot tawa toast the saffron (kesar) slightly till crisp (do not burn it)- do this on a slow flame & toss it around gently using a clean kitchen towel. Crumble this saffron into the warm milk. It will turn yellow as the strands leave a beautiful colour & fragrance.
3. In a large pan boil plenty of water (you can measure double the water and throw in an extra couple of cups - but remember that you will need to drain the water so it has to be plenty or the rice wont cook and fluff up properly). When the water comes to a boil, toss in the spices - cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, fennel seeds, caraway seeds.
4. Add the rice, stir well. Add salt to taste. Cover with a tight lid so that no steam can escape. Cook till the rice is done three fourths - to check this, take a grain of rice and press it between your index finger & thumb, if it breaks into three parts, your rice has cooked just right. Turn off flame and drain the rice in a colander. Spread it out on large thalis (plates) and allow to cool. Sprinkle some lime juice & the saffron milk & mix gently.

Assembling the Mutton & Rice:
1. In a handi/wok with a wide bottom transfer the cooked meat from the pressure cooker and then place the par boiled rice on top of the meat. Seal the pan with foil and then place a lid over it or you can cover the pan with a lid & then use dough along the rim. (knead the dough & roll it into a thin coil & use it to seal the edges)

2. Place a large iron tawa on the flame & the sealed pan on top of the tawa. Cook on sim for 30-40minutes. Turn off flame after 40minutes and allow to settle for 10-15 minutes before opening it. Open and cover with silver vark (optional). Serve hot with raita!

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