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A Royal Biryani from Bengal

Biryani

1856 was a dismal year for Wajid Ali Shah. The British had taken over Oudh, and Shah – then the tenth Nawab of Oudh – was banished from Lucknow.

Shah settled in a place called Metiabruz on the outskirts of Calcutta, and he tried to maintain the regal lifestyle he was accustomed to – but the British hadn’t left him with much money, so it was a bit of a struggle. The royal feasts were scaled down considerably because the financially squeezed establishment just couldn’t afford large quantities of meat for the exiled monarch, his entourage and his guests.

Wajid Ali Shah’s favourite dish was Avadhi Biryani and that required large amounts of meat. The royal chefs came up with an innovative solution: they added a potato and an egg to fill each platter and compensate for the shortage of meat on the banquet table.

People who have eaten Biryani in places like Delhi and Lucknow are often surprised to find eggs and potatoes in the Bengal Biryani. Well… now you know why!

Here’s the recipe for this famous Biryani from Bengal. You will notice that some of the spices are repeated in the list of ingredients. That’s because separate sets of spices are required for the rice, for marinating the chicken and for giving the Biryani its traditional flavour.

The ingredients that you will need are:

Ingredients:

  1. Chicken: 500 grams

  2. Mustard Oil: 300 millilitres

  3. Hung Curd: 5 tablespoon

  4. Onions: 2, large

  5. Potatoes: 4, medium-sized

  6. Eggs: 4

  7. Milk: 50 millilitres

  8. Ginger (Adrak) Paste: 2 teaspoon

  9. Garlic (Lasun) Paste: 2 teaspoon

  10. Red Chilli Powder: 1 teaspoon

  11. Black Pepper Powder: Just a pinch

  12. Biryani Masala: 1 tablespoon

  13. Basmati Rice: 700 grams

  14. Saffron: 10 strands

  15. Cloves (Laung): 5

  16. Green Cardamom (Elaichi): 4

  17. Black Cardamom (Elaichi): 1

  18. Bay Leaf (Tej Patta): 1

  19. Cinnamon (Dalchini): 1 two-inch stick

  20. Nutmeg (Jaiphal) Powder: Just a pinch

  21. Cumin (Jeera) Seeds: 1 teaspoon

  22. Black Peppercorn: 1 teaspoon


Separate Set of Spices:

  1. Green Cardamom (Elaichi): 7

  2. Black Cardamom (Elaichi): 2

  3. Cinnamon (Dalchini): 2 one-inch sticks

  4. Black Peppercorn: 1 teaspoon

  5. Cloves (Laung): 4

  6. Cumin (Jeera) Seeds: 1 teaspoon

  7. Fennel (Saunf) Seeds: 1 teaspoon

  8. Nutmeg (Jaiphal) Powder: Just a pinch

  9. Salt: 2 teaspoon


The ingredients mentioned above are for serving four persons. Please adjust the quantities if you require less or more.

Preparation:

Wash and cut the chicken into standard pieces.

Hard boil the eggs.

Slice the onions.

Wash and peel the potatoes.

As mentioned earlier, there are three sets of spices: the first for the Biryani to give it its traditional flavour; the second to spice the rice up; and the third set for marinating the chicken.

On a tava roast the set of spices shown separately in the list of ingredients. Once these are roasted, grind them into a coarse powder.

Next, it’s time to prepare the marinade. Beat the hung curd in a bowl and add the ginger paste, the garlic paste, red chilli powder, black pepper powder and the Biryani Masala. Mix well till a smooth paste is formed. Then add the chicken pieces ensuring that each piece is thoroughly coated in the marinade. Add one teaspoon of salt, sprinkled over the top and keep the bowl aside for around 4 hours.

Wash and clean the rice. Soak it in water for around 30 minutes.

Use a piece of clean muslin cloth to prepare what is known as a “spice bag”. Place the four green cardamoms, black cardamom, five cloves, the cinnamon stick, a pinch of nutmeg powder, one teaspoon of cumin seeds and one teaspoon of black peppercorn in the muslin cloth and tie it into a small pouch. This is your spice bag.

Take a large pot (in ancient times, this would have been an earthen pot). Fill the pot with water, add one teaspoon of salt and the bay leaf. Bring the water to a boil. Add the rice along with the spice bag and cook till the rice is half done.

Drain the water and carefully spread the rice out on a large tray or plate. Pick out the bay leaf and the spice bag and discard them.

Method:

Heat half the Mustard Oil in a pan on a Medium flame. Fry the onion slices till they turn golden brown. Remove the fried onions from the oil and keep aside.

Add the remaining Mustard Oil and continue heating on a Medium flame till the oil reaches its smoking point. Add the potatoes (whole) and cook till they are half done. Remove the potatoes from the oil and keep aside.

Add the hard boiled eggs to the pan and cook for a minute or so. Remove the eggs from the pan and keep aside.

Next, take the bowl containing the marinated chicken pieces. Gently remove the marinade coating from each piece of chicken – but don’t throw the marinade away; keep it in the bowl.

Now add the chicken pieces to the hot Mustard Oil. Cook till the chicken is half done. Remove the chicken pieces from the oil and keep aside.

Next, add the left over marinade to the pan. Add the potatoes and the eggs and cook till the potatoes are done.

Take the milk in a bowl and warm it a little (don’t boil it). Carefully, place the strands of saffron in the warm milk, rubbing the strands gently between your fingertips to help them dissolve in the milk.

Take a large wide-mouthed pot or a Degchi. Create a series of layers as follows: arrange one layer of rice; sprinkle a little saffron milk over the top; place a layer of chicken and gravy; again sprinkle a little saffron milk; and then another layer of rice. Do the same thing with the potatoes and the eggs. Continue layering till all your ingredients are in the pot.

Now cover the mouth of the pot (or Degchi) and seal the edges using dough.

Place a large tava on a Low flame. Carefully place the pot on the tava and let the contents cook and simmer for around 45 minutes.

Switch the flame off – but let the pot stand on the tava for another 15 minutes. This allows the rice and chicken to absorb the flavours and aromas of the spices.

Your Royal Bengal Biryani is now ready to be served. Break the dough seal, remove the cover and serve straight out of the pot. You would have noticed that there is a lot of preparation and cooking time involved for this dish. That’s because the royal kitchens had dozens of assistants scurrying around, lending a helping hand and carrying out various chores. In a modern kitchen without the additional “manpower” it can be tough – but it’s worth all the trouble!

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