Biryani, the quintessential one-pot Indian rice and meat dish is a global favorite. Like most things Indian, there are umpteen ways to prepare it as well. Here is a family recipe for goat biryani from my mother’s side. Succulent pieces of mutton are cooked along with fragrant spices and fluffy basmati rice to create this flavorful biryani. A permanent fixture at our home on lazy Sundays and the Holidays alike, to me, it says comfort and mom’s love on a plate.
To par-cook the mutton,
Mutton – 2 lbs (tender goat meat)
Onion – around 1/2 of an onion, chopped
Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
Red chili powder – 1/2 tsp
Coriander powder – 1/2 tsp
Salt – 1/2 tsp
To grind to a fine paste,
Ginger – a 2-in piece
Garlic – 8 large cloves
Green chilies – 3
Fresh herbs to grind to a paste,
Cilantro – around 1 cup, roughly chopped
Mint leaves – around 1/3 cup
For the biryani,
Basmati rice – 2 cups
Ghee/Oil – 6 tbsp, divided
Whole spices – 1 dried bay leaf, a 1-in piece of cinnamon, 3 cloves, 3 green cardamom pods, a small piece of star anise
Onions – 2, finely chopped
Ginger-garlic-green chili paste – the aforementioned quantity
Cilantro-mint leaves paste – the aforementioned quantity
Tomato – 1, chopped
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Red chili powder – 2 tsp
Coriander powder – 3 tsp
Garam masala powder – 1 tsp
Par-cooked mutton – 2 lbs
Coconut milk – 2 cups
Salt – to taste
Lemon juice – 1 tbsp
Cashew nuts and golden raisins – a small handful each, for garnish
1. Cut the mutton into medium-sized chunks. In a pressure cooker or large pan like a Dutch oven, add the mutton along with 1/2 of one chopped onion, 1/4 tsp turmeric powder, 1/2 tsp red chili powder, 1/2 tsp coriander powder, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 cup water. If using a pressure cooker, cook on high heat for 1 whistle, reduce heat to low, cook for 5 more minutes and allow the pressure to escape naturally before opening the cooker. If using a regular pot, cover and cook on medium for 10-15 minutes. The mutton will be semi-cooked now. Remember, we will cook it again with the biryani masala and rice. Remove mutton to a bowl, drain the stock and reserve it for later.
2. Meanwhile. grind the ginger, garlic and green chilies together to make a paste. Also grind the cilantro and mint leaves together with a little water.
3. Wash the rice well and drain the water completely. In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp ghee on medium heat and roast the rice till it is fairly dry and well-coated with the ghee. Keep stirring the rice constantly, so that it does not turn brown. Remove from heat promptly and keep aside.
4. Heat the rest of the ghee in the pressure cooker or other large pan used earlier. Add the whole spices and let them sputter and turn fragrant.
5. Than add the chopped onions and saute well till golden brown. Add the ginger-garlic-green chili paste and saute till the raw smell is gone, 3-4 minutes. Add the cilantro-mint paste and saute well till it releases a nice aroma and the oil separates, another 3-4 minutes.
6. Add turmeric powder, red chili powder, coriander powder and garam masala powder and mix well. Add the chopped tomato and saute for a couple of minutes till tomatoes soften. Now add the par-cooked mutton pieces and stir to combine well with the masala.
7. Measure 3 1/2 cups of liquid using the mutton stock and coconut milk and add to the pot. (This makes the biryani so flavorful than if you use just water). Add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice also. Bring to a gentle boil and add the rice. Season with salt.
8. If you are using a pressure cooker, put the lid and weight on, cook for one whistle on high heat, then simmer on low for 5-7 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally before opening it. If you are using any other cooking pot, close it with a tight-fitting lid and cook on medium-low heat for about 15-20 minutes or till the rice is cooked. (Take a peek in between to see if it needs more water. If your rice needs more water to cook, sprinkle hot water as needed, close and continue cooking.)
9. Once done, mix the biryani well, taking care to use a light hand and not mash the rice. Keep biryani covered till ready to serve.
10. Just before serving, garnish with a small handful of cashew nuts and golden raisins fried in a little ghee.
11. Serve biryani hot with a cool raita or thick yogurt, fresh vegetable salad, Indian pickle and pappads.
The same recipe can be adapted to make lamb or chicken biryani as well. Then there is no need to par-cook the meat first. Simply marinate the lamb or chicken pieces with a little spices, add to the sauteed masala in step 6 and proceed. It is best to use bone-in pieces of any meat you decide to use for best flavor.
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