Biryani (Briyani)—is a slow cooked dish prepared by infusing rice and or vegetables and meat with spices to form a mild yet fragrant composition. Prepared in kitchens from across Persia to South Asia—and in South Africa too-the preparation of Biryani differs in both the use of ingredients and cooking techniques.   Biryani was usually one of our Sunday Lunch meals . Amma used turmeric or food coloring to color the rice and often made Biryani milder than she did Curries and used Biryani Dhal (black lentils) which I have omitted from this recipe. She often made Mutton Biryani, Chicken Biryani or Vegetable Biryani. She rarely made Fish Biryani while her Tinfish Biryani sometimes featured on the menu for weekday lunches.

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Amma had two methods for cooking Biryani-the first was a one pot durban biryani method which involved preparing a sauce then topping with rice-allowing to cook on low heat-then mixing  everything together in a single pot (this must be where the expression of ‘making Biryani’ out of something comes from. This is a quick and easy method of making Biryani. The second method was a system of layering rice-sauce-coriander and fried onions then cooking in the oven.  The recipe shown here uses this method of making Biryani. Although this is a more time consuming method-the results are definitely worth the effort.

Chicken Biryani Recipe

This recipe serves 8 people.

Ingredients for Chicken Biryani
  • 2 tablespoons of Powdered Biryani Spice or portion of whole Biryani Mix or (4 cloves, 4 cinnamon sticks, 8 cardamom pods, 2 bay leaves, a teaspoon aniseed, 2 star anaise)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground garlic
  • 2 tablespoon chicken curry or regular masala/ chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • Bunch of fresh Coriander
  • 3 onions
  • 2 sliced fresh green chillies
  • 4 cups Basmati Rice
  • 500ml plain yogurt
  • 1 cup Peas
  • 1 cup diced Carrots
  • 1 whole chicken or chicken pieces
  • Salt
  • Half teaspoon Saffron
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 3 tablespoons Ghee (not heaped)
  • 1 cup Water


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  • Biryani would not be Biryani without the spices used-but having to pick whole spices off the plate while eating can be quite annoying-my solution to this is to grind the spices instead of using them whole.  This does not compromise the taste or smell of the dish. A coffee grinder works best to grind the spices into a fine powder.
  • I usually prepare the meat the morning or night before I intend cooking Biryani.
  • Clean and cut the chicken into small pieces then marinade together with the yogurt, Biryani spices, garam masala and chilli powder. I also add a cup of finely chopped coriander. Cover and place in the refrigerator until needed.

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  • Prepare the rice at least 2 hours before you intend cooking.
  • Wash then soak the rice. Wash again –Amma used to always rinse the rice several times until the water was clear. 
  • Leave the rice to soak until you begin cooking the Briyani.
  • Combine the saffron and 2 tablespoons milk. Allow to infuse for about an hour or two before you intend cooking.
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    How To Cook Biryani

    1. Slice one onion into fine pieces.
    2. Heat the pan. Add 1 tablespoon ghee. Fry the onions until brown. Add the ginger and garlic. Add chopped fresh chillies.

    3. Add the Chicken pieces. Allow to cook for 10 minutes then add peas and carrot or vegetables of your choice. Add one cup of water-allow to simmer while you prepare the rice.

    4. Rinse then pat the rice dry.

    5.Add tablespoon ghee to a pan then fry the rice on low heat. Add the Saffron. Stir until the saffron is completely infused into the rice then turn off the heat.

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    6. Slice the two remaining onions into thin rings.

    7.Heat another pan with 1 tablespoon ghee to fry the onions rings. Once browned remove from the stove.
    8. Prepare a large deep dish for baking the Biryani.
    Start layering- beginning with a layer of rice then chicken followed by onion rings and top with coriander. End with a top layer of sauce for a moist biryani.
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    9. Drizzle half cup of water across the pan then cover in aluminium foil and bake on 180 degrees Celsius for 45minutes to an hour-check to see if the rice is cooked-if you prefer rice to be softer then allow the dish to cook longer.

    10. Amma loved to add roasted potatoes to Biryani. Make this by peeling then spread a teaspoon of oil over the potatoes mixing together with salt then place in a baking dish-cover with foil-bake for 30 minutes then remove the foil to allow the potatoes to brown.

    11. Remove from the oven serve warm with Dhal and Raita.
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