Why Is Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani So Important To Me?
What’s in the name? Well, if you hail from a gourmet loving nation that is a delicious mix of ethnic, cultural and social names, it could definitely mean a lot!
Going by my name, it was understood by generations of friends and acquaintances that I must be the Queen to the King of Mughlai Food. The yin that prepares the aromatic yang, the ‘Masala’ to the spiced flavors of the sumptuous layered rice! But in fact, I was far away from being the hostess who generously doled out the magical dish called Chicken Biryani. I was more the reluctant, fake-smiled attendant who was cornered to confront peer pressure vis- a- vis a date with homemade chicken biryani.
It all began really long back, but the eventuality of it only hit me when my entire college gang landed at my doorstep to taste my mother’s, aka ‘Aunty Ke Haath Ki Biryani!’ Alright, that was not much trouble to me, neither my mom, who finds delight in feeding the not so hungry all the time. However, the ordeal just magnified when apparently every city that I moved to for work or fun, I had most people asking me when I was inviting them for biryani because of course, I had to consider it was me!
It just got worse when I went out with my ‘husband of tod’, ‘seeing him then’ guy to discover that chicken biryani happened to be his favorite food! Of course, I was doomed. Over the years, I had no particularly close relationship with this so-called heavenly dish, nor did it register in my bucket list of things to eat or prepare before I die.
From a gawky teenager who didn’t care much about the frenzy and awe around chicken biryani, I grew up to learn to appreciate the finer nuances, flavors, and enchantment that beheld this dish. I would like to believe that it was not because love is blind and supposedly also affects other sensory organs, but it is safe to say that from becoming an occasional aloof indulgence, chicken biryani slowly became an integral part of my culinary expertise (which happens to be otherwise very limited).
I have often wondered exactly why I never cared too much for this ubiquitously obvious dish and have come up with various answers. Maybe it was because it was my brother’s favorite too, hence by default I had to throw a tantrum every time it was cooked. I mean this is the main proof of why every child claims to be less loved in comparison to the sibling. Or maybe it was because I liked it to be different. You know the sophisticated wannabe who had better things in life to do other than relish chicken biryani. You get the point right?
Or maybe, I was just point blank lazy. Do you know it takes tons of dedication and heart endearing effort to create something that is actually edible? And if it happens to be something as complicated as the chicken biryani, that involves multiple step-by-step instructions, then God help! I guess I shall settle for this reason above all the others because it happens to match exactly and truly with my personality. I belong to the instant generation. I need ‘wow’ things right ‘now.’ And even if I do have the time, I mostly do not have the inclination to arduously follow a recipe to perfection. The problem with Chicken Biryani as I always believed was that it had to be made precisely the way it should be. No shortcuts allowed and most importantly it had to have the flavor of selfless love. The essential ingredient to tasty flawless cooking is a pinch of unabashed passionate focus of wanting to create the best dish ever. And trust me, this is the one ingredient that is hard to find in markets and malls.
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The First Attempt
So after years of trying to evade the Chicken Biryani, I was now confronted with having to try to cook it. In my husband’s family, a Sunday essentially means ‘Biryani Day’. So come Sunday and I had no choice but to give it a try. The key this time was that finally, after years of not searching at all, I had found the essential ingredient mentioned above. I so badly wanted to impress my talent and love for the chosen one that I had to give it my best shot. And I guess it was then that I crossed the biggest hurdle to cooking biryani. I let go of being judgmental and for once decided to cook something with a lot of heart for the sake of another’s happiness. Alright enough of the philosophy, in other words, there was nothing else that I could do, so I took the plunge bravely.
Before I move on to how it turned out and my life-changing experience, it is only fair to go through the process of how chicken biryani is made. How to make chicken biryani? Or what is the Hyderabadi chicken biryani recipe? Hyderabadi biryani, by the way, is one of the most famous and delicious schools of biryanis. On second thought, my love for Hyderabadi biryani comes from the fact that I spent some of the best years of my life in Hyderabad, gorging on its many flavors including the Chicken Biryani. So you see it’s just more special apart from being the best.
I have to share the recipe here because it will help you understand the different stages and ingredients for preparation. At the same time, you can try it yourself too if you start salivating by the end of it.
1.5 cups Basmati rice
½ tsp biryani masala powder
1-2 large onions
4 tbsps coriander and mint leaves chopped
Oil or ghee
Add 1.5tbsp ginger garlic paste, ¼ tbsp. turmeric, 2 green chillies slit, 2-3 cups of yogurt or curd, 2tbsp lemon juice, 1tbsp red chilli powder, 1tbsp biryani masala, ¼ tbsp. cardamom powder and salt to the chicken.
While boiling the basmati rice besides water, add salt, a little oil, a cinnamon piece, 5 to 6 cloves, 3 to 4 cardamoms, 1 bay leaf, 1 star anise and any other optional garam masalas that you may have.
Finely slice the onions and fry until it turns deep golden to brown. Do not burn the onions.
While the rice cooks, prepare the marinated chicken. In a pan, add oil, the fried onions and pour the marinated chicken in a layer.
Once the rice is cooked to almost 75% switch off the gas and drain off the water. Layer the cooked rice over the marinated chicken; sprinkle the fried onions and coriander and mint leaves over it. Sprinkle the biryani masala powder and pour saffron milk and ghee over the layered rice.
Cover the pot with foil or a thick lid and let the biryani cook on a slow flame.
So, as illuminated above, the recipe doesn’t seem too difficult neither are the ingredients too hard to find. I realized I was kind of exaggerating about the long drawn process of making Hyderabadi chicken biryani when all along, it wasn’t really so complicated.
And yes, in case you still remember the conversation before the recipe, my first chicken biryani didn’t turn out to be too bad.
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As They Say, Practice Makes Perfect
It has been some years since I have been cooking the biryani every Sunday and as you know, practice makes one perfect. Well, of course, I do not make the perfect biryani every week, mainly because you do remember that essential ingredient called selfless love right. But on some days the biryani is just fine, on others barely manageable while on some surprisingly good. Also, with practice comes authority to tweak and twist the recipe a bit according to convenience. Again it works on someday and on some days it won’t.
Finally, what Chicken Biryani really taught me was to let go of inhibitions and prejudices. To experiment but not totally break away from ground rules. And lastly, it made me rewind so many of the memories that I wish can be brought back from time.
To those college friends scattered around, I wish you would land on my doorstep one more time to taste ‘Mere Haath Ki Biryani’. To my brother and family who I do believe are my own and not adopted. To my new home that taught me that change is always not too bad.
And yes it also made me realize, that hearty spiced up chicken biryani meal with raita and soda on the side is a blissful experience.
What was your first time experience when you ate or prepared Chicken Biryani?
What memories do you have attached to it?
Share them with me in the comments below.
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H*****So well written Tasneem. The entire process of cooking seems so alive. Next time when i cook, m sure gone think the way you do..."love" the key ingredient. :)
S*****Lovely read Tasneem. I completely relate to the earlier part of you being a reluctant cook, the only difference is that I am still not to excited by cooking. It also made me realize how conveniently we stereotype - a Muslim friend, she must cook wonderful chicken biryani- and go salivating at their doorstep every Eid or otherwise "Hum biryani khaane aaye hain"😅 The wonderful thing is that whatever our assumptions might be, we have never been disappointed.😍
A*****Hi Tasneem, Lovely reading the article.Mine is a bit similar except" maa ke haath ki biryani".My husband was posted in Hyderabad and from there we found this new love.I try making it occasionally and as you say at times it is OK and at times awesome😁.My son doesn't like pieces of garam masala so I make a potli and put it in rice.please share the receipt of gravy served with biryani,I can never get it right🙄.Thanks for sharing.
T*****I also like hyderabadi biryani and it's my favorite
M*****I love it, tastes awesome.I think everybody should try it once.
M*****Its yummmy... spicy... love it
H*****I loved it yr yummmmy