durban chicken biryani recipe | Food... like Amma used to make it
Durban chicken biryani (beryani), is a one pot biryani, layering a curry layer with rice, vegetables and fried onions, and topped with fried potatoes. It is fragrant and mild yet spicy at the same time. The most defining characteristic of this type  of biryani is the incorporation of black lentils or biryani dhal into the dish and the use of Birayni mix and masala. Biryani mix is a medley of sweet spices cinnamon, elachi (cardamom), fennel (somph), star annaise and bay leaf, which account for the near intoxicating smell of this biryani. It is often served with Dhal and Brinjal or Wedding Dhal and carrot salad. This trio was often served at weddings, with Soji as a dessert. Large pots were cooked over an open fire for such functions, at home it was simply made on the stove top in one pot.

Unlike east Indian versions of this dish Durban Biryani is mixed together after cooking, this must be where the expression of 'making Biryani out of something' comes from, when you mix too many unlikely ingredients together. Amma had two methods for making biryani, this one pot version on the stove top and the second version of chicken biryani in the oven. Rice in this type of Biryani is often best grainy, I ended up with softer rice than anticipated because  I used a 26 cm wok and it was too small for the quantities used. It was the biggest pot I have at the moment, now that I am cooking again, I ought to get a better set of pots! Let me know in the new comment section below if there is a good pot brand out there for making Biryani. If you are making this recipe, consider using a larger pot or a deeper one. I also recommend a heavy based pan for slow cooking, a wok was not such a good idea but the taste was exceptional!

Spices Used In Durban Biryani

Durban Biryani Mix

Biryani mix often comes in bag, simply take as much as is needed to make Biryani. If you are abroad, chances are you won't find any Biryani mix but can still make your own by combining the following whole spices:

  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon  aniseed
  • 2 small cinnamon sticks
  • 3 all spice seeds
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 star annaise
  • 2 bay leaves

Amma always kept her spices whole and fried them with onion and ghee before adding powdered spice and the chicken. I use half the powdered biryani spice to marinate the chicken and the rest is fried with onions and ghee before adding the chicken. You can use them whole or if you dislike having to pick them out as much as I do then place all ingredients in a spice or coffee grinder to form a powdered version of the spice.

 For this recipe I used the following quantities to make 4 tablespoons of Biryani mix spice:

Durban Biryani Masala

Durban Biryani is sometimes refered to as masala briyani. Spice used in this case is a masala, made from a combination of chilli powder, garamasala, turmeric and biryani mix. This gives the gravy component its characteristic red colour, fiery taste and intoxicating aroma that make up an authentic Durban Chicken Biryani.

How to Make Durban Biryani

Biryani is one the most celebrated dishes,  it requires the most preparation time in comparison to other Indian recipes from South Africa. Like any great composition it also requires planning and patience, and a lot of love when cooking, I like to break up the process into stages by preparing ingredients in two steps Preparation and Composition.

Preparing Durban Chicken Biryani:

The Biryani Mix

I make my own biryani mix by combining spices, then grind into a powder because i dislike having to pick them out while eating. I grind them to from a  powdered spice.

The Chicken

 I, like Amma used to, often use a whole chicken cut into smaller pieces.This stage involves cutting the chicken and preparing for marination. Add sour milk or yogurt and spices. I use half the quantity of spice to marinate the chicken and the rest for cooking the biryani.Once all ingredients are combinec,  leave in the fridge. This is best done overnight.

The Lentils

 I  boil the lentils on the day  I make the briyani. Boil first before starting with the biryani itself. Drain and then set aside.

The Rice

Amma used turmeric or food coloring to make the rice yellow. I use turmeric instead of coloring, Now that fresh turmeric is readily available in supermarkets, I take advantage of this, they sometimes give off a deeper yellow colour than the powdered version. Amma often parboiled rice for a few minutes then removed from stove to wash off the starch. After rinsing she added turmeric water to soak the rice in. Once the rice is yellow, remove excess water and set aside.

The Onions

Fry onion rings for adding between layers. Fry in ghee until golden brown.

The Vegetables

Durban biryani often contains vegetables, sliced carrots, green beans and peas or gathra beans. Prepare these by cutting into small pieces. I use tomatoes in this recipe. Prepare them by soaking in hot water to remove the skin. Cut in half then grate.

Composing and Cooking Chicken Biryani

Prepare the curry or sauce component by frying spice in ghee.

Add grated tomatoes.

Add chicken pieces.

Allow to simmer  then add layers of rice, lentils,vegetables and fried onions.

Cover and place a heavy object on the lid to allow ingredients to cook with their own liquid.  Don't add any more water than the recipe requires.

Once coked, gently mix to form delicious Durban chicken biryani.

Durban Chicken Biryani Recipe    

Yield: 6
Durban Chicken Biryani Recipe

Durban Chicken Biryani Recipe

Prep time: 30 MCook time: 30 MTotal time: 60 M
Durban Chicken Biryani is a fiery yet aromatic medley of masala and whole spice. It is a one pot Biryani and has black lentils and vegetables included in the dish.


  • 4 tablespoons briyani mix (whole or powdered) use 2 tbs for marinating the chicken and 2 tbs for cooking
  • 3 tablespoon chicken curry masala or Biryani Masala
  • 4 tablespoons ghee for biryani
  • 2 tablespoons ghee for frying onions
  • 11/2 teaspoons turmeric powder or 1 teaspoon freshly grated turmeric for soaking rice
  • 4 onions sliced in rings
  • 1 onion sliced fine
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger and garlic
  • 2 or 3 fresh green chillies ( Vary depending on how hot you would like to make the biryani).
  • a few curry leaves
  • 1/2 cup sour milk or yogurt
  • 2 medium tomatoes (to be skinned and grated)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups rice (prepared per instructions listed above)
  • 1 cup brown lentils (pre boiled)
  • 1 cup of vegetables of choice (I used green beans, carrots and peas)
  • 1 whole chicken (cut into small pieces)
  • a bunch of coriander
  • 8 potatoes (the biryani for topping I omitted this from the recipe. To prepare see Biryani in the oven recipe)


  1. Start by frying the onions . Slice the four onions into rings. Fry in ghee until golden brown. Set aside.
  2. To cook the Biryani, heat ghee in a pan on medium heat. Add chopped onion, ginger and garlic, curry leaves and green chillies. Fry until onions are golden brown. Add powdered spice. Fry for a minute or to then add grated tomatoes. 
  3. Fry for a minute or two then add marinated chicken. Cover and allow to cook for 5 minutes, then turn the chicken over . Cover and cook for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add a layer of lentils, followed by rice and vegetables then onion and coriander if desired. Continue layering until all ingredients are used up. End with a layer of rice on top.
  5. Pour the cup of water over the rice or top layer.
  6. Cover with lid, then place a heavy object on top to seal moisture in. This will help steam the rice and meat resulting in succulent chicken and the best Durban Biryani. Cook for 30 minutes. Don't add any additional water.
  7. You will notice the liquid seep through the top once it boils, this is an indication that it is nearly cooked. Remove from heat. Gently mix o combine.
  8. Serve warm with dhal and brinjal and a carrot salad.
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  1. This looks so good! Makes me miss home so much.


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