I haven’t eaten out since…February. And I’ve come to realize that cooking is a kind of coping mechanism for me. Here, at least, is something productive I can do which is useful to the entire family. I enjoy the creative aspect of it, the physical labor, the exploration of new recipes, and the ultimate reward: the eating and sharing of good food prepared at home. So here is my recipe for Chettinad Chicken Biryani.
I’ve always been fond of biryani, and we have some terrific takeaway options in Toronto. So I’ve never really bothered to try making it at home, since the traditional methods of making it are quite time-consuming. But I’d been craving chicken biryani for a while, and was loath to venture outside, so decided to try my hand at it. Traditionally biryani is often cooked in ghee, or clarified butter, but I detest ghee and used simple vegetable oil instead. Also, I used a single large pressure cooker to make the entire dish rather than cooking the rice and chicken separately and layering them. I enjoy cooking, but efficiency is important to me. I don’t have time to waste, nor do I enjoy washing multiple utensils. This entire dish took me around two hours, which is reasonable for a special weekend dish. I did make my masala beforehand, though.
Note: skip whatever you don’t have. I only managed to get a few star anise, nutmeg and mace because those spices were present in a packet of mixed spice I procured from a South Indian store.
I cup basmati rice
1 whole chicken
Roast all the ingredients for the masala and then grind the roasted spices in a spice or coffee grinder. You can store this mix in an airtight jar for months, but it does lose its aroma over time, so using within a few weeks is best.
Prepare a marinade with one cup yoghurt, salt, and 3-4 heaped spoons of the above masala. Skin and chop a whole chicken. Marinate the chicken in your yoghurt mix for an hour. Meanwhile, chop onions, tomatoes, and garlic. (I used garlic paste.) Soak a cup of basmati rice. Don’t soak for more than 5-10 minutes; you don’t want the rice to be overcooked.
Heat oil in your pressure cooker or instapot and add a few cloves, peppercorns, a star anise, bay leaves and a stick of cinnamon. You can also add dry red chilies, but I avoided chilies of any sort because I wanted the whole family to be able to enjoy this dish. When the spices are sputtering, add your garlic and onions. Cook until translucent. Add tomatoes, cook until done, then add your marinated chicken, fresh mint leaves, and 1 teaspoon of tamarind concentrate. Cook till bubbling then close the lid. Give it one whistle in the pressure cooker.
When the steam has escaped, open the lid and add a tin of coconut milk and your soaked rice. Make sure the rice is just covered with gravy. Too much or too little water will make your biryani too wet or too dry. Give it another whistle. When the steam has escaped, open it and fluff the rice.
I found that all the chicken had separated from the bones, so I removed the bones. You can also make this dish using boneless chicken thighs, which would be easier, but cooking a whole chicken does it give it more flavor.
My personal verdict: Pretty good for a first attempt! Tasted quite genuine. I will soak the rice next time (I skipped that bit) and add a bit more water because it was on the drier side. I will also use less rice than I did this time because too much rice with too little chicken makes one feel cheated, lol.