Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Chicken biryani

Though I've never been to India, I love Indian food: the colours, the flavours, the heat...  It's quick and easy cooking with a minimum of pots and pans, which, as someone with neither a dishwasher or a large kitchen I particularly appreciate.  This dish gets double points on that front as it doesn't even require you to cook rice separately.  Brilliantly, the basmati sits on top of the marinated meat in the same pot, and steams as it's cooked in the oven, infusing with all the glorious flavour of the spices, tang of the yoghurt and sweetness of the onions. 

But far and away the very best thing about Indian food is how - with the addition of store-bought chutney or yoghurt, poppadoms or pickles, naan or roti (or all of the above) - a simple meal can be transformed into a lavish feast.  This is food to share - make a one pot dish (with a minimum of fuss and maximum of flavour), cluster your condiments and breads on the table around it, crack open some beers and dig in.

Chicken biryani

Adapted from a recipe I tore out of The Weekend Australian Magazine (May 28-29, 2005) from Indian chef Ajoy Joshi of the Sydney restaurant Nilgiri's.  It originally called for lamb and tastes equally delicious cooked with that particular meat.  Though the green chillies and chilli powder provide a nice heat, this dish is pretty mild on the spicy scale.  If you like things hot, you might want to augment the quantities of each a little.

Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients.  Once you have your spices, you're set for many Indian feasts as they keep well and are used in relatively small quantities.

This recipe feeds a small crowd - I usually halve it and it serves four easily.

4 medium onions, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon salt
125ml (1/2 cup) vegetable oil
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1kg (2.2 lb) boneless chicken thighs (free-range if possible), trimmed of fat and cut into bite size pieces
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons chilli powder
2 teaspoons turmeric
3 large green chillies, chopped finely
1 cup each chopped coriander (cilantro) and mint
300g (1 cup) natural yoghurt
Juice of one lemon
salt to taste
600g (1.3lb) basmati rice, washed, soaked for 20 minutes

Combine onions and salt and set aside for 20 minutes.  

Preheat oven to 200 deg C / 400 deg F.  Heat oil and butter (you can certainly dial down the quantity of butter and oil if you choose) in a large flameproof casserole/Dutch oven and fry onions until golden.  Strain, reserving liquid.  

In the now empty casserole, combine chicken with garlic, ginger, garam masala, chillies, turmeric, herbs, yoghurt and lemon juice; mix well.  Add the strained onions and stir through.

Boil enough water to cover soaked rice.  Strain rice and add water to saucepan; bring back to the boil.  Add rice and cook until al dente (about five minutes), then strain again and spread over the top of the chicken mixture in casserole.  Spoon over reserved oil and butter.  Place pot over a high flame for 30 seconds, then put the lid on and transfer into oven for 30-40 minutes.  

Remove from oven, stir so that meat and rice are mixed together, and serve with any combination of plain yoghurt, chutney, Indian pickles, naan, roti and poppadoms.

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