Who isn’t a sucker for comfort food now and then? Comfort food is a universal pleasure – but there is certainly more to it than meets the eye, after all, it is the brand ambassador to ‘pick-people-up’. Perhaps the prowess to comfort lies in its intense aromas wafting through the home or perhaps in its warmth like the reassuring hug of a mother – either which way, we make an agreement with ourselves to indulge and savor that every moment spoon by spoon until we are left with nothing but its fond memory.
For some, that dish is ‘pot pie’, for others it is ‘bangers, mash and gravy’, but for me it is a highly aromatic layered rice dish called ‘Biryani’. Biryani is very popular in the east and many countries have their own version of it. Let there be no mistake, the dish originated in Iran and has been around for centuries, but through wars, royal marriages, and general migration, the dish left its footprints in Pakistan, India (within which, there are many regional variations), Thailand, Burma and Malaysia just to name a few.
In our home, we often ate biryani in the colder months because there was a richness to it that would bolster us from the harsh season. There of course, are countless ways to make this dish, but my mother would layer rice, with a layer of chicken curry, repeat this once more time and then a final layer of rice. She would then sprinkle the dish with caramelized onions and fried potatoes and off it would go in the oven to let the flavors mingle.
The beauty of this dish is in its ability to stand alone with nothing more than a humble dollop of plain yoghurt. When I make this at home, it is an instant pleaser to both my kids and husband, so make a little extra because it tastes even better the next day.
- 1 cup boiled white rice (preferably jasmine) and laid out on a plate to cool
- 2 lb. chicken thighs, cut in ¾” thick pieces
- 2 tbsp. cooking oil
- 1 tsp cumin
- 2 medium-sized onions, finely diced
- 1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger
- 1 tsp. fresh grated garlic
- ½ tsp. turmeric powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. garam masala (Indian spice blend available at most grocery stores)
- 1 can of crushed tomatoes
- 2 medium-sized onions, finely diced
- 1 cup yoghurt
- Handful of cilantro, finely chopped
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- 1 onion, thinly sliced and sautéed until deep gold
- 1 russet potato, sliced in to thin rounds and fried until golden and tender
1) Heat oil, add cumin seeds. When seeds turn 2 shades darker, add the onions and sauté on high heat until golden and jammy. Add the ginger and garlic and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the spices and salt and fry another minute. Add the tomatoes and cook until the oil separates and sauce thickens
2) Add the chicken and cook on medium to high heat. When almost cooked through, beat the yoghurt and add to the curry. Cook until the gravy loses that ‘milky’ look, mix in the cilantro and remove from heat
Layering and heating
1) Grease a deep oven proof dish, add spread out 1/3 of the rice, layer with half the chicken and sauce and then repeat. Sprinkle the last portion of rice over the top and place in the oven so that the last layer of rice can become crisp (about 15 minutes)
2) Spread the potatoes and onion slivers on top and bake again for another 7 minutes
3) Remove and serve as is or gently lift the rice from the bottom with a slotted spoon and lightly toss the biryani ingredients together
Saira Malhotra, is of British –Indian descent and is a chef, food writer and cooking instructor based in New York City. Raised in Hounslow, U.K, or rather ‘Little India’, where the air is aromatic with roasted spices, little did Saira know these moments would follow her from being a student in France and Italy to residing in NYC with her husband and kids and parlay themselves unexpectedly in to a culinary career. She is a graduate of the International Culinary Center in New York City. Come visit her at her food blog: Passport Pantry, where she shares approachable and international recipes.