The Recipe - Indian Chicken Biryani

Indian Chicken Biryani for a Crowd

As Sudha Chalicham and Venu Chaganti, from Andhra Pradesh, India, taught Lindsay Sterling in Scarborough, ME January 2013

Serves 18
Cooking Time: 24 hours
Active Time: 4 Hours

Please read entire recipe before beginning to cook. Each section has its own ingredient list. Print out a complete grocery list here to make shopping easier.

Step 1: Marinate Chicken
(About 30 min.)

5 lb. chicken bone-in leg quarters (legs and thighs)
5 Tbsp ginger-garlic paste*
1 lime, juice of
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp super hot Indian chili powder
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
2 tsp salt
1 package Shan brand "Special Bombay Biryani"

*Ginger-garlic paste:
3" peeled ginger, peeled
1 1/2 heads garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric

Using paper towels for grips, peel the skin off the chicken. With a cleaver, whack chicken perpendicular to bone to make pieces that are about 1”x2”. (Alternatively, you can ask the butcher to do this. You can just as easily peel the skin off the smaller cut pieces after they’re cut.). Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel (if the chicken is wet, the marinade will slide right off). Wash everything that touched the raw chicken. 

Make the ginger garlic paste by blending in a food processor equal parts ginger and garlic with salt and turmeric, adding just enough water to turn the ingredients into a paste. Save 2 tsp of this for putting into the rice tomorrow.

In a large mixing bowl, make the marinade by mixing the garlic ginger paste, lime, turmeric, Indian chili powder, yogurt, salt, and one package Shan brand "Special Bombay Biryani" spice mixture. Massage this marinade into the chicken with your hands. Wash hands, then cover the chicken and let it marinate in the fridge for 6 to 24 hours.

Step 2: Cook Chicken and Sauce
(About 35 min.)

1/4 cup vegetable oil
Biryani chicken spices:
      2 whole mace pieces
      6 green cardamom pods
      10 whole cloves
      1 1/2 whole star anise
      8 small pieces cinnamon bark
      2 black cardamom pods
      1/2 tsp black cumin
      5 bay leaves
10 super hot green chilis
1 1/2 large white onion
1 tsp salt
2 tomatoes
(5 lb. marinated chicken pieces in the fridge)

Slice chilis in half lengthwise. Slice onions thinly and tomatoes into wedges. Heat oil on high in large sauté pan or wok with lid. Add Biryani chicken spices and let cook for two minutes. Then add chilis. When they’re browned a little, add onions and salt and stir (the salt helps the onions break down faster). Once onions are soft and slightly brown, add tomatoes. Stir and cover. After about five minutes when everything is looking a little brown, add chicken and stir. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring every ten minutes or so, until the sauce is thick and chicken is cooked but not falling off the bone. Turn off heat.

Step 3: Prepare Rice
(About 30 min.)

8 cups basmati rice
3 Tbsp butter
Biryani rice spices:
      4 green cardamom pods
      7 cloves
      2 pieces whole mace
      1 star anise
      5 small pieces cinnamon
      1/2 tsp black cumin
      1 black cardamom pod
      4 bay leaves
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
4 super hot green chilis
1 1/2 tsp salt
large rice cooker or 16x12x3” aluminum baking pan
10 cups water

In a large bowl near sink, cover rice with water and massage with hands to loosen extra starchy powder. Drain and repeat until water runs clear, 4-5 times. (This helps the rice not stick together when you cook it).

If you have a large rice cooker:

If you have a rice cooker that can handle 8 American cups of rice (FYI - some Japanese models have “cups” that are 3/4 of an American cup measurement), remove the rice cooker pan and put it on the stove. Sauté the butter in the bottom of the rice cooker pot. Add all the spices and let cook one minute. Add chilis and ginger garlic paste and cook another minute. Stir in the rice and let cook for two minutes. Add 1 1/2 tsp salt. Transfer the rice cooker pot back into the rice cooker, add 10 cups water, and press “cook.”

If you don’t have a large rice cooker:

If you don’t have a rice cooker, preheat the oven to 350, boil 10 cups water in a pot on the stove and get a 16”x12”x3” aluminum baking dish ready. Sauté the butter in a large soup pot. Add all the spices and let cook one minute. Add chilis and ginger garlic paste and cook another minute. Stir in the rice and let cook for two minutes. Add 1 1/2 tsp salt. Transfer the rice into the baking dish, add the boiling 10 cups of water, seal the baking dish closed with tinfoil so no steam escapes, and put in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Note: You’ll notice this is much less water than you would normally use for this amount of rice. We’re doing this because we are only partly cooking the rice now. In Step 5, it will get more moisture when it is baking with the chicken and sauce in the oven.

Step 4: Prepare Additional Items
(About 30 min.)

9 eggs
1/4 white onion
4 tsp vegetable oil
pinch red-orange food color powder (999 brand or Shwad brand)
1 Tbsp water
1/2 cup raw cashews

Hardboil eggs. (Cover eggs in a small sauce pot. Bring to a boil, set timer to 14 minutes and turn to low heat. When timer goes off, drain hot water and cover eggs with cold water and let sit until cool enough to peel). Slice white onion into ? inch strips. Saute in oil on high heat until really brown but not burned. Turn off heat. Mix a dash of food coloring with 1 Tbsp water in a small dish. Put raw cashews in a small dish.

Step 5: Assemble and Bake Biryani
(About 45 min.)

Huge aluminum baking dish (20”x12”x3”)
Wide aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Taste chicken and sauce. Add salt and stir. Taste again. You want it to be almost mildly over salted. This flavor will be spread out over a lot of rice.

Next put the following components on the counter next to the largest aluminum baking pan for the layering process: the browned onions, rice, chicken with sauce, cashews, and red food coloring. Each one of these components will be a layer in the dish. Drizzle a little oil on the bottom of the backing pan and spread out with a brush. Add rice so you have an even layer of rice about 1 inch thick on the bottom. Then add a “layer” of chicken and sauce. Use about 1/3 of what you have, which will not be a solid layer, but intermittent pieces of chicken and sauce spread out. Next layer about 1/3rd of the browned onions, and put about 6 cashews evenly throughout. Dip your fingers into the food coloring and sprinkle red dots on the layer.

Repeat this layering process until all your ingredients are gone. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and press the edges as tightly as possible so little to no steam leaves the pan in the oven. Bake for thirty minutes.

Step 6: Finishing Touches
(About 25 min.)

For garnish:
1/2 white onion + 1 white onion
2 limes

For Raita:
1 tomato fine dice
2 small handfuls cilantro, chopped
4 cups plain yogurt
2-3 cups water
2 tsp salt
2 green hot chili peppers, sliced into thin circles

Slice 1/2 white onion across so you have whole circles of onion. Display on a plate with lime wedges – 1 for each person and place on table. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a serving bowl to make raita, a cool yogurt sauce that goes will with spicy food. Place on table.

When the biryani is done baking, mix so that the color turns uniformly gold. Taste the biryani and mix in salt if it could use it, perhaps 1/2 tsp. Decorate the top of the biryani with hard boiled eggs, whole or cut in half so each person can have a piece. 

Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2012