My husband is a good man. Really he is. No bias or anything. I am told that I used to know how to make biryani at the ripe old age of 12, but somehow over time I completely forgot how. And so for let’s say 4 years or so after we got married I served him biryani after biryani that was a 6.5/10 at best. Then, fortunately for him, my aunt who is my go- to person for recipes passed on her recipe for biryani and my husband suffers no more.
Biryani is essentially a meat and spices pilaf. The best biryanis in Pakistan are often found in places which would not survive any health inspection, but have managed to produce the most delicious of biryanis for decades. From the famous Student Biryani to newer (and cleaner) places like Biryani Centre it is definitely a big favourite of Pakistani people. When I was working in Karachi I think I had Biryani at least once a week if not more – clearly eating healthy wasn’t quite a priority back then 🙂
For the Meat Masala:-
1 pound stewing beef (cubed)
½ cup vegetable oil
2 medium sized onions
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 thinly sliced green chillies
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 ½ tbsp garlic paste
½ tbsp salt
½ tbsp red chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp Shaan brand Sindhi Biryani Masala (totally optional, but HIGHLY recommended – if skipping then read the note at the bottom)
1 medium tomato diced
2 medium potatoes cut into 1.5 inch pieces
2 tbsp yogurt – whipped and at room temperature
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped mint
Juice of a lemon
For the Rice:
4 cups rice
4 tablespoons salt
For the finishing touches:
1 tsp of yogurt mixed with 2 tbsp water
Juice of half a lemon
Note: I usually make Beef Biryani in a pressure cooker because I find that it is quicker and makes the meat more flavourful. If, however, you do not have a pressure cooker then all you need to do once you have sautéed the onions, the spices and added the meat is cover it with water, put a lid on it, bring the water to a boil, and then go low and slow for however long it takes your meat to cook through. Add the optional potatoes when you think you have about 20 minutes to go. It usually takes me 45 for beef total. If I am making this with chicken then I add only a few tablespoons of additional water (just enough to prevent my spice paste from burning) and cook it over a regular flame, chicken cooks pretty quickly.
Measure out your rice half an hour before you will start cooking, wash it through and let it soak in warm water.
Now look at your pots and pans. You will need two large ones for what you are about to do – one to cook the rice and layer the final product and a second to make the meat mix. I suggest using a pot for the rice/final biryani that is a minimum of 10 inches wide and 6 inches deep. If you aren’t using a pressure cooker then use whatever other large pot you have handy for your meat rice mix.
Heat half a cup of oil in your pot or pressure cooker. Add diced onions, cumin seeds, and 2 diced green chillies and sauté until the onion softens and starts looking translucent. If the edges start to brown then drop in a tablespoon of water just to bring the temperature down and continue. Add the ginger and garlic paste, sauté for a minute and then add the spices and the Shaan masala. Cook for about two minutes, the colour of the spice paste will intensify and the oil will rise to the top.
At this point you add your meat and diced tomato. Sauté for a minute and then add enough water to cover the meat. If you are using a pressure cooker then follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how long to cook the meat, you want it to be nice and tender. If adding potatoes (and who doesn’t like potatoes) then release the pressure 2 minutes before the meat will be done, toss the potatoes in, and let them cook for another few minutes (again according to manufacturer’s directions). If like me you`ve somehow lost those then its trial and error baby!
Now go ahead and put your rice on the stove along with 4 tablespoons of salt and enough water so that it rises a few inches over the rice. Oh and when I say 4 tablespoons I mean it. This is your big opportunity to flavor the rice, don`t chicken out.
Once the meat and potatoes are done resist the urge to pick at the potatoes with a fork and eat 3 standing right there. As I say this I laugh a little, resisting tasty spuds is not my strong suit.
Turn up the heat, let any excess water evaporate out, you want your oil to rise to the top again and for the gravy to be nice and thick. You will not get alot of this yummy sauce so it needs to be very strong to adequately flavor the rice – I am saying twice as strong as you want the final product to be. Seriously. Once things are looking good, i.e. the oil has risen to the top and overall yumminess is abounding, then add the two tablespoons of whipped yogurt and cook to fully incorporate on medium heat for about two minutes. Shut the stove, add in half a cup of chopped cilantro, quarter cup of chopped mint (if you have any, I skip this all the time), the juice of half a lemon and additional sliced green chilies if you so please. Cover the pot. Your work here is done (almost).
When the rice is cooked al dente, that is to say it has a little bit of a bite to it then drain your rice in a colander and put half of it back in the pot. Spread the meat and potatoes mixture on the rice followed by the remaining rice. Squeeze a lemon on top and sprinkle over some dry yellow food coloring (if using). If you want to take it up a notch – and who doesn’t – then take one teaspoon of yogurt, mix it in with two tablespoons of water and pour this liquid mixture over your biryani. Scatter the green chillies on top, shut the lid of the pot and let it sit on the lowest heat setting for 20 minutes. You can check on it in fifteen and if the rice is cooked through then feel free to now start gently mixing the biryani with a large flat cooking spoon. Make sure you mix the rice + meat mix from the side of the pot inwards so as to not break the rice.
Serve with yogurt, achar (pickles), or all by itself.
Note: If you are not using the Shaan masala then after your oil heats add the following – 4-5 whole cloves, 6-8 whole black peppers, 1 inch piece cinnamon, 1 pieces of black cardamom, 1-2 bay leafs and saute for a few minutes before adding the onions etc. Also, if you have dried apricots then feel free to add those with the tomatoes when cooking the biryani. I have made this recipe several times now without the Shaan masala and it is awesome. for real.
*Shaan Masalas and Rang/yellow coloring are ready available at Pakistani/Indian stores. If you live in Canada then the Loblaws chain carries Shaan Masalas as well. My aunt who gave me this recipe identified it as a great ‘cheat’ – the mix already has many of the elements you would need to add separately without it.