Fast And Easy Chicken Biryani

Chicken Biryani is India's answer to the Spanish paella. It is a traditional Indian dish of one part rice and parts meat, vegetable and or fruit and nuts; often made before a wedding, and cooked in an oven. Made well, it is truly a stunning feast of a dish. This recipe is nothing like that. This simple stovetop variation does not try to follow tradition, or make a grand affair out of the meal. This one's only about getting a tasty supper on the table, lickety split. For me, the entire dish, from concept to plating, took about an hour. One half hour to soak the rice (meanwhile, the chicken marinade was being prepared), and about a half hour to cook. Plus, it's (almost) a one-pot dinner. At the end, you get a tasty biryani dish with fluffy, separate grains of tinted rice, and moist, flavorful, tender pieces of chicken and onion. How can you not love that? Most biryani recipes call for a gazillion different spices. I cheated and just used a commercial paste


1 c basmati rice
about half a pound or more chicken breast, fresh or frozen (or alternative)
plain yogurt
1 or more onions
A few tablespoons of ghee, butter or olive oil
biryani spice mix (or alternative)
ginger-garlic paste (or fresh garlic & ginger)
saffron (optional)
bay leaf (optional)
turmeric (optional)


Soak the basmati rice in a large bowl of cold water for half an hour (after which, you drain and rinse it a few times under cold water, until the water is clear). While it's soaking, you can prepare the rest. I used a couple of small frozen chicken breasts for this dish, which I thawed out in the microwave oven. This little convenience really helped in getting a biryani on the table in about an hour, without preparing anything in advance. If you have fresh chicken breast on hand, even better. If you want to get fancier, and use other cuts of chicken (bone in or boneless), or even other cuts of meat (ie. beef), you can do that also. But you may need to alter the cooking times, or the method. Make sure the pieces are cut not too large.

While the rice is soaking, defrost and rinse the chicken breast if necessary, and cut into about 1" cubes. Toss the cubes into a bowl, along with a few tablespoons of plain natural yogurt, about 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of ginger-garlic paste (I used 1 tablespoon), and spices. I recommend a commercial spice paste, such as a biryani or curry paste from "Patak's" or "Mother's". You may need some salt, depending on what you use for spice. I used about a tablespoon of "Mother's" biryani paste, which is a salty spice paste. So no additional salt was needed. (Taste your paste to see how salty it is. Remember it will be diluted by the yogurt, so its okay if its very salty).

 If you don't have or don't wish to get a paste, you can also get a pre-made commercial biryani spice mix in powder form, such as from "Shan" (which comes in a box). If these aren't available to you, use a curry powder. You can also opt to throw in a few additional Indian spices, if you have them on hand. For example, I added about a teaspoon of turmeric powder to my chicken mixture, a bay leaf, and some dried mint.  Other spices to add here may be; cinammon, ground cardamom, black pepper, chili powder, or cloves (remember to remove them later!). Keep in mind the various heat and spice levels, relative to the amount of meat and yogurt you are using, if you are adding spices in addition to a spice paste or powder mix. You may not wish to have it too spicy or too hot. If you have some on hand, you might also try adding a half or full small can of tomato paste to the mixture. Or even a fresh, chopped tomato.

Chop the onion in med. size chunks, and add to the bowl, along with the chicken, yogurt, spices and herbs, if using. Cover your bowl and let this marinade in the fridge, while the rice is soaking. Of course the longer it marinades, the better the flavour. But as this is the speedy version, I only let it marinade until the rice had finished soaking, about 20 minutes. Bring a medium pot of water to boil, large enough to contain the rice. Once boiling, add about a tablespoon of salt and some olive oil to the water. When the rice has finished soaking, drain it and add it to the pot of boiling water. Boil the rice until it is half cooked; about 5 minutes (test it by crushing a grain between your fingers. It should mush down, without being completely mushy, and should leave a harder core).

While the rice is cooking, you can start the chicken. Place a medium sized pot, preferably a medium dutch oven, on medium-high heat. To which, add a tablespoon or two of (in order of preference); ghee, butter or olive oil. (n.b. You can clarify butter to obtain ghee. Just heat it on low power in the microwave, the milk will separate from the yellow solid. Pour through a strainer, or straight into a jar, to separate and discard the milk part, retaining the yellow part). Once starting to heat, swirl the butter or olive oil until it covers the entire bottom and part of the side of the pot, near the bottom.  At this point, you can add some saffron threads, to give a nice colour and flavour to the meat. Now, add the chicken yogurt mixture that you marinated. (IMO, there is no need to wait until the oil has heated, and you're better off not doing that, to avoid sticking). Flatten down the chicken so it covers the entire bottom. Add the drained rice on top of this, and flatten it down, somewhat.

Optional but preferable, you can add some saffron liquid to the rice. This will flavour and perfume the rice, adding a gorgeous yellow or orange color. To do this, heat about an eigth of a cup of water in the microwave (or use hot tap water). To the water, add some saffron threads, and some olive oil. Mix. Pour in a swirl fashion over top of the rice. Now, cover the pot with a heavy lid. If you do not have a heavy lid, then soak a cotton kitchen tea towel with hot water, drain well, and place this over top of the pot (make sure none of it touces the stove element). Place the cover over, to form a tight seal.

Cook the biryani mixture no more than five minutes total on med. high, just to get things started. Then reduce heat to med. (about 5 or 6 on most stovetop dials). Cook on med about 5-7 minutes. Reduce to low (or about 2 on most stovetop dials), and cook out the remaining time of about 17 minutes on (almost) low.

Serve with a salad, or coleslaw, or some raw cut vegetables. You can garnish with coriander, and serve bread (preferably an Indian bread) alongside.


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