Chicken biriyani is made with chicken marinated in yogurt, chile powder, and garam and biriyani masala layered with fragrant, spiced basmati rice, and caramelized onions.
With its endless layers of nuanced flavors, chicken biriyani is perhaps India’s most iconic comfort food. As the author of this recipe explains, “A perfectly made bowl of chicken biriyani is India’s answer to Italy’s spaghetti, France’s beef bourguignon, and Spain’s paella.” As with those other comfort food classics, chicken biryani does take a touch of time and patience to assemble. But the sensational mingling of gently spiced chicken, fragrant rice, and caramelized onions more than justify the making of it.–Angie Zoobkoff
☞ Table of Contents
For the chicken
- 1 pound bone-in, skinless chicken pieces preferably thighs or drumsticks
- Mild vegetable oil
- 3 medium onions sliced 1/4-inch (6-mm) thick
- One (1-inch |2.5-cm) piece fresh ginger minced
- 8 cloves garlic minced
- 1 to 2 green chile peppers such as Thai green chile peppers, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 6 black peppercorns
- 2 dried red chiles
- Water if needed
- 1/2 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri chile powder*
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 3 tablespoon store-bought or homemade biriyani masala*
- Juice of 1 small lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup finely chopped mint
- 2 tablespoons store-bought or homemade ghee
For the rice
For the layering components
- Vegetable oil (as needed)
- 4 medium onions sliced 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick
- 2 tablespoons lukewarm milk
- Pinch of saffron threads
- Finely chopped cilantro and mint (as needed)
- 3 tablespoons ghee melted
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon rose water (optional)
Marinate the chicken
- Rinse the chicken pieces under running water. Pat them dry with paper towels.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, warm 3 tablespoons oil. Add the onions, reduce the heat to low and cook until they are softened and a little browned, about 15 minutes.
- In a food processor, combine the browned onions, ginger, garlic, green chiles, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and red chiles. Add a little water if needed to blend it until smooth and transfer to a large bowl.
- Add the yogurt, Kashmiri red chili powder, turmeric, garam masala, biriyani masala, lemon juice, salt, cilantro, and mint. Mix everything well. Add the chicken to the marinade and stir to thoroughly coat the chicken. Cover the bowl and marinate the chicken in the refrigerator overnight, or for at least 8 hours. When you are ready to make the biriyani, take the chicken out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
Make the rice
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, bring plenty of water to a boil. Place the cloves, green and black cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, peppercorns, and star anise on a piece of soft, clean muslin cloth and make a bundle of it. Now add this spice bundle to the water. (Alternatively, you can go ahead and toss the aromatics into the water without a bundle, but you will need to fish them out later.) Add the ghee and salt and let the water come to a full boil. Stir in the rice and let it cook just until it’s about halfway done, 7 to 8 minutes. (Be careful not to overcook the rice.) Drain the rice, remove and discard the aromatics, and let it cool a bit while the chicken is cooking.
Cook the chicken
- In a large, deep, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer with a tight-fitting lid over high heat, melt the ghee. Add the marinated chicken and marinade. Let it cook for 5 minutes without touching or turning it. Then turn the chicken pieces over, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook the chicken for 15 minutes. If you feel the chicken is beginning to stick to the bottom of the Dutch oven, add a splash of water.
Prepare the layering components
- While the chicken is cooking, set a deep saucepan filled with 2 inches (5 cm) oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering but not smoking, add the onions and cook until crisp and brown, 4 to 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the fried onions to paper towels to drain.
- In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk and saffron and let it steep while you assemble the biriyani.
- Turn off the heat under the Dutch oven. Make sure the chicken is spread out in a layer. The chicken should be moist and there should be some pan juices on the bottom of the Dutch oven.
- Scatter half the rice on top of the chicken and spread it out so that it covers all of the chicken. Sprinkle half the fried onions, some cilantro and mint, half the saffron milk, half the ghee, and all of the garam masala on the rice.
- Add the rest of the rice in an even layer and top with the remaining fried onions, some cilantro and mint, and the remaining saffron milk. Sprinkle the rose water over this layer and add the remaining ghee in a drizzle, pouring it along the edges and in the center of the rice. After layering everything, there should be about a quarter of the Dutch oven free for the steam to collect and aid in cooking.
- Place a piece of aluminum foil over the Dutch oven and then place the lid tightly on the foil, making sure no steam can escape. Place over low heat and cook for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Turn off the heat but keep the Dutch oven sealed for at least 30 minutes, or until you are ready to serve.
- As you serve the rice, scoop deeply into the rice to make sure to include all the layers.
*Note: Kashmiri Chile Powder SubstitutionYou can easily find Kashmiri chile powder online or in Indian and Middle Eastern markets. However, you can also make a quick substitution using everyday ingredients by relying on a ratio of either 2:1 or 3:1 sweet paprika to cayenne pepper, depending on how hot you fancy your chile powder.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This chicken biryani is just heavenly. The chicken is very tender and juicy. Unbelievably so. The depth of flavor achieved here is astounding. Don’t cook this thinking you’ll be able to restrain yourself, because you won’t. This will make a regular weekend appearance in our house from now on.
I didn’t have any biriyani masala, so I made my own based on the online recipe linked to in the ingredient list. It took 10 minutes and made enough for around 6 of these biryani recipes. I would recommend this recipe if you can’t locate the store-bought spice mix.
I think the fact my onions were thinly sliced made these a success. They were nice and crisp and very tasty. Even on their own!
When layering the ingredients, I thought I wasn’t going to have enough rice. The second layer of rice, in fact, wasn’t completely covering the previous layer of herbs and onions. However, once it was cooked, this wasn’t an issue, either visually or in terms of proportions.
I added extra chicken (6 thighs in total) and with the amount of rice instructed in the recipe, there was enough for 2 very greedy people with leftover rice that I’ve frozen and will have for lunch with a fried egg!
I made some quick chapatis to have with this. I appreciate with all the rice this may not be everyone’s choice but it was a great combination and I would serve it this way next time. (Smear your chapati with a little salted butter. heaven.)
Biryani is absolutely one of my favorite dishes and one that I break out for very special occasions. It’s complex and time-consuming to make, but the layers of flavors and textures make it so outstanding.
This is the first time I used a prepackaged biryani spice mix and it added an entirely new level of taste that I was unable to get previously. I couldn’t find the brand that the author suggests; I could only find Shan Sindhi Biryani seasoning mix. (It does say right on the box that it is “hot and spicy,” which I should have believed.
I would caution anyone making this to read through the recipe fully and plan ahead. The various parts of the recipe do take some time but much can be put together the day prior (the spice mixture for the rice and some of the ingredients for the marinade). I marinated the chicken for 16 hours and the chicken had the intense flavor that I expect from biryani.
The spice mix used to flavor the rice is absolutely perfect and made the most beautiful counterpoint to the spicy chicken and layers of crisp onions. I used onions sliced quite thinly so they got crisp in the time allotted. Everything was cooked perfectly.
I used various pieces of meat from a whole chicken, including both dark and white meat. For the green chiles, I used 2 large Anaheim chilis because I like the flavor and brightness and I knew the red chiles I had were very, very hot. As I said previously, the packaged spice mix said “hot and spicy” and it was made in Pakistan. I should have known right then that I was in over my head. Still, it didn’t make my eyes water when I smelled it, so I thought, “Go on, add TWO whole Thai chiles.” And that was definitely a mistake. I think, if making this for guests, I would have erred on the side of caution but I didn’t this time and it was a little too much.
The marinade made quite a bit. I could have probably covered twice the amount of chicken.
This recipe made 4 large servings. It was a little too spicy for us but served with lots of fresh naan and cool raita, we got through it. This recipe is definitely on par with the one I have been using for years and I will likely return to it in the future.
Originally published March 19, 2019