This is another post in my highly intermittent series where I try to cook some British curry house classics but in the way they were actually intended. Some of my dear faithful readers (ha) may remember the previous post in this series of (now) two, where I tried to cook a proper dhansak without resorting to sticking pieces of pineapple in it. I was very very pleased with the results. As I thought about the next dish to attempt, my thoughts quickly turned to biryani.
Now, this is a bastardised dish if ever there was one. Whilst once defined as a highly aromatic, delicate dish fit for royalty, it is now often a stage for curry house chefs to mix a bit of meat and rice together with curry powder and then go mental with the green and red food colouring. I’m not particularly sure who these people are who get a real kick out of being served multi-coloured rice but I can safely say I am not one of them.
Anyhow, the original incarnation of biryani was descended from Persia, and incorporates all the wonderfully aromatic, elegant flavours that you would come to expect from that part of the world. There is no real spicy heat here, more the warming flavours of whole spices – cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black cumin. I have to admit, there are a few ingredients in here I was initially put off by. I’m not the hugest fan of rose flavouring, saffron, or fruit in savoury dishes – all three are pretty much essential to this, and I was happy to be proved wrong in this instance.
I turned to one of my favourite cookbooks, Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Bible to make this. She pretty much never lets me down. But I was scared – a raw meat biryani is one of those dishes where the timing has to be perfect, as it involves cooking raw meat with very partially cooked rice. Get it wrong and you could easily end up with a mush of rice and some tough as old boots lamb. Not wanting to be eating mush with leather in it for tea, I followed the instructions to the letter. And it actually turned out perfect. I was extremely happy. We served it up with some lovely carrot and radish salad on the side (recipe also below).
On the ingredients front, I’m not going to pretend all the ingredients are either cheap (saffron isn’t) or easy to find (aloo Bokhara – dried golden plums, aren’t). However, this isn’t an everyday dish – it is something to feast on, and if you want to spend a bit of time and money on that, you will be greatly rewarded.
Oh, and you will need a day to prepare this, and potentially the night before to marinade the meat.
(And for those of you in London, the fabulous Persepolis in Peckham stocks aloo Bokhara, being the wonderful purveyor all things Persian that it is)
Moghlai ‘Raw’ Meat Biryani – recipe taken from Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Bible
Marinade for the meat
5 whole cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
1/2 small cinnamon stick, broken up
175ml plain yoghurt
1tbsp peeled and grated ginger
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
500g lamb loin chops, sliced in half
1/2 tsp saffron threads
2tbsp rose water
350ml measure of basmati rice
1.5 onions worth of crispy fried onion slices (instructions below)
Ghee used to fry the crispy onions
5-6 dried aloo Bokhara (dried golden plums) or dried apricots
1/4 tsp black cumin seeds
1/2 small cinnamon stick
2 whole cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 whole cloves
1. Marinade your meat. Put the cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon into a coffee or spice grinder and grind as finely as possible. Put the yoghurt in a bowl that will hold your lamb chops. Add the ground spices and salt. Pick up the grated ginger and squeeze all of the juice into the yoghurt. Add the garlic and mix well. Rub the marinade all over the lamb. Cover and set aside for 4-8 hours (I just left it overnight).
2. Place the saffron on a small piece of foil. Fold some of the foil over the top and crush it with a rolling pin or similar. Put the crushed saffron in a cup, add the rose water and leave to soak for four hours.
3. Wash the rice in several changes of water, and then leave to soak in a generous amount of water for 1-3 hours (I left mine for 2). Drain just before cooking.
4. Make your crispy fried onions. Slice your onions in half, and then very finely slice them so that you end up nice half rings, and then separate them out. Heat up enough ghee (or just use a groundnut or vegetable oil if you can’t get any – but it is damn good using ghee) to come to around 3mm up the side of a large frying pan. When hot, add your onions, and stir so they are spread out and all coated in the ghee. Stir and fry for around 8 minutes, until the onions have started to brown. Reduce the heat to medium-low and fry for another 2 minutes. Then reduce the heat to low and stir and fry for another 12-15 minutes. You want the slice to look reddish-brown, not burnt.
5. When the onions are cooked, pour the contents into a sieve over a bowl (you want to keep the ghee). Drain the onions of as much ghee as possible. Line two plates with kitchen roll and lay the onions out across one of the plates. Leave to dry out, and then transfer to the other plate to dry out further. Then crumble the onions and keep aside.
6. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C. Line the bottom of a wide, heavy ovenproof pan with a lid with the ghee you have reserved from the onions. Spread the meat and its marinade over the ghee. Then spread the crumbled onions over the meat. Place the aloo Bokhara into any little spaces between the meat.
7. Pour around 2-2.5 litres of water into a saucepan. Add the black cumin, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves and bring to the boil. Then add the salt and the drained rice. Stir and return to the boil. Boil for three minutes, or until a grain of rice breaks into two or three pieces when crushed. Drain the rice.
8. Spread half of the rice over the meat. Sprinkle half of the saffron water over the rice evenly. Then spread the rest of the rice over the first layer. Sprinkle the remaining saffron water over the top, and then pour over the milk. Cover tightly with foil and bring back to the boil.
9. Once steam starts escaping from the sides of the pan, re-crimp the foil on the pan, add the lid and place in the centre of the oven. Bake for around 1hr and 30-45 mins. Mix gently before serving.
Carrot and radish salad
2 carrots, peeled and diced
A handful of radishes, diced
1tsp black mustard seeds
2 finger chillies, chopped into 3 or 4 pieces each
Small handful of coriander leaves, chopped
2tbsp groundnut oil
Lemon juice and salt to taste
1. Get your vegetables ready in a serving boil. Heat the oil in a small frying pan until hot, and then add the mustard seeds. Fry until the mustard seeds begin to pop, then quickly throw in the chillies and then take off the heat and pour everything over the vegetables.
2. Add your coriander, and then lemon juice and salt to taste. And that’s it.
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