As I walk down the busy and bustling Sir Syed Sadullah Road, Lakhtokia, leading to my natal household, I savor the sights and sounds of the locality of my childhood. The place is always teeming with vendors, shopkeepers, passer byes and sightseers. I sight one….two….no, three vendors scooping rice and chicken pieces from giant degchis (pot), filling foil boxes for customers. Priced at Rs.50, this box of chicken Biryani is a hit with customers who relish a dish associated with royalty, at such an incredibly affordable price. Surely, Empress Mumtaz would have approved. It was she, who credited to have invented the biryani ordered her cooks to prepare the nourishing meal when on one occasion she happened to see the ill-nourished soldiers of the Mughal army in the barracks. Over centuries, this humble meal began to adorn the tables of Kings and royalty and biryani in different forms became a snob dish.
My association with biryani is a long one. My father, a connoisseur of good food loved cooking. As a young bride, mother learnt many Mughlai cuisines from father and Biryani is one such. In those days, the Polau superseded the Biryani and few families prepared this meal. The Biryani in the dining table was then an exception, unlike now, when serving Biryani has become a norm. For us, no Eid was complete without Biryani which was accompanied by the Murgh Mussalllam (whole stuffed chicken). Even, thirty-five years after father’s death, mother never fails to continue with this tradition. The whole family gathers over a degchi of this celebratory lunch. We – daughter, sons and daughters-in-law have learnt the art of making Biryani from my mother and are continuing to carry this legacy onwards. Here, I am sharing my mother’s recipe of the Chicken Biryani . Her recipe is unique. It is shorn of unnecessary spices and artificial flavorings, commonly found in today’s biryani recipes. This biryani is light to the stomach and you do not feel full and heavy. You need to prepare and taste this recipe. Only then will you be able to discern the differences.
One whole Chicken – 1 kg cut into Joint Pieces
Refined oil – 3 tbsp
Onion – 1 big
Garlic – 1 tsp
Ginger – 2 tsp
Salt – 1 tsp
Long grain Basmati rice – 500 gms
Sliced onion – 4 big sizes
Whole Garam Masala – ( Clove, Cinnamon sticks, Black Cardamom)
Mace – 1
Bay leaves – 4
Saffron thread – a few
Milk – 2 tbsp
Clarified butter – 3 tbsp
Refined oil – 2 tbsp
Salt – to taste
Water – 1 litre
For sealing the edges of the Vessel – Dough made with wheat flour and water.
To make the chicken, pour oil in a pan, add the onion slices, garlic, ginger and, salt and sauté. Add the chicken pieces and let it cook in its juice until tender and the oil comes out. Keep aside.
To make the birista, pour the refined oil in a degchi , and add the onion slices. Fry until golden and crisp. Keep aside. Wash the basmati grains and soak in water for around ten minutes and then drain. In a degchi, boil the water hot, immerse the grain along with bay leaves and salt and cook till the grains are half done (The grain should not be completely cooked). Drain in a colander. Add the whole spices. The rice will become long and fluffy.
When the rice is completely dry and cool, it is time to layer it with the chicken. In a degchi, spoon a little oil, layer with rice, and chicken pieces. Cover with a second layer and the fried onion, layer with rice and the remaining chicken and gravy. Layer with rice and onion. Pour the saffron mixture. Pour clarified butter towards the end and place the lid. Seal the edges with the wheat dough . Put on heat. If you are using wood fire, take out glowing coals and place it on the cover and let it cook Dum Pukht .
Serve with raita or green salad of your choice.