Recently G asked me jokingly (or so I hope) if I were cooking for my blog or for him. Granted, this may have followed the recent Artemis Fowl-inspired dinner, but he’ll be the first to tell you that that dinner was actually among his recent favorites. Nevertheless I felt that perhaps I should do something specifically for his taste buds. I do generally like to cook daal (lentils), bhindi (okra), and other simple dishes we absolutely love—eventually I’ll share those, it ain’t nuthin fancy yo!!—but I figured I’d surprise him with something special.
Herein arises the problem. His dream food is biryani – spicy, rich, greasy, fluffy, awesome biryani. It also happens to be a dish I just cannot seem to conquer. This is not the first time I’ve attempted the dish but for the sake of the blog, this is where the battle begins.
So I tried once more, and while it started out promisingly, the end result was less than the sum of its parts. Somehow this is always the case, and I wish I could pinpoint what the flaw is in my approach. I’m generally a healthier cook, but I even upped the grease factor this time, and was shockingly pleased with how my masala came out… until I combined everything and tasted it. I have a problem with under-salting, but that’s easily rectified by the miraculous invention of the salt shaker. No, that wasn’t it, I feel as if the flavors were muted somehow… Enh.
Even this wouldn’t be such an issue—in truth, G said it was my best effort yet, and quite good—except that “quite good” isn’t good enough, not for this at least. Anyone close to me will tell you I am unfailingly competitive (even if just with myself), and I take criticism very deeply. So screwing up on what should be my husband’s favorite dish severely disappoints my spirit. But why? Why can’t I take the positive of a dish that still turned out pretty tasty? I’ve discovered time and time again that I am deliberately negative and critical toward myself and my capabilities, where less-than-spectacular equals failure in my head, and this contributes tremendously to my shyness among other things. Hence why it took so long to reveal this blog for example. So my irritation with myself last night led to some discussion with the husband, and more introspection whilst writing this out. As a result I believe I ought to direct more positivity toward myself; I’m not one for making “resolutions” but this comes darn near close. Ahh, the glory of exploring oneself as a result of something so harmless as a food journal! I apologize to my readers for having to endure it, but such is life.
Self-reflections aside, the recipe for chicken biryani calls for a whole jingbang of ingredients, and I couldn’t begin to tell you quantities because I just add as I see fit, but generally:
- Rice (I did 1 ½ cups for the two of us)
- Boned or boneless chicken, your preference (boned will get a better flavor I am told; boneless appeals to me more)
- Chicken marinade: crushed garlic, crushed ginger, salt, cayenne powder, turmeric, yogurt (a lot to coat it all generously)
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 2 tomatoes, peeled and diced (easy to peel if you boil for a minute first)
- Garam masala
- Chili powder
- Coriander powder
- Cinnamon sticks
- A few cloves
- A few whole black peppers
- Bay leaves
- Cardamom pods
- More salt
- More garlic
- More everything I suppose
- 2 green chilies (Serrano), peeled and sliced
- Cumin seeds
- A smidge of saffron
- Tiny bit of milk
Am I forgetting anything? Possibly. The basic formula is this (according to the recipe I follow, I plan to try something different/tweak the steps next time probably):
Marinate the chicken, set aside (a couple hours at best).
Start with a pot o’ boilin’ water; add a tsp of salt, the cloves, peppers, and cinnamon stick, and rinsed rice to pot. Bring that to a boil, lower to simmer, and cook until parboiled (about 90% cooked through). Drain, Rinse in cold water, set aside.
Fry all your onions in a deep pan coated with oil (6-7 tbsp perhaps) until golden brown, removing roughly ¼ of quantity to use later. Then add the chili and coriander powders, and then the chicken. Fry until nicely cooked and no longer pink, but has a golden color. Then throw in the tomatoes, bay leaves, cardamom, and start tasting and adjusting the flavors to what you like.
Eventually the onion and tomatoes will blend together, and then you’ll see the oil separate from the masala. This is what you want, it means you’re pretty much done. Take a baking pan and start layering: rice, chicken masala, reserved onions, rice, chicken masala, onions, finally rice. Top with jalapenos, green chili, and cumin seeds.
Warm a little bit of milk, maybe 3 tbsp, mix a couple strands of saffron in it, and drizzle this over the rice.
Firmly cover the pan with foil and baked at 450 degrees (preheated) for about 30 minutes.
Oh but I followed this with an orange chiffon cake that would bring Russell Crowe to tears (happy tears, mind you! Emotionally wrought, enlightening tears of rapture!). You’ll soon read about what has now been dubbed “Gautam’s Utopian Cake” (his title, not mine). Not that I’m trying to entice you or anything…