One of my favorite Indian dishes is chicken biryani. Prior to coming to Japan, I had never sampled Indian food because I was born in a rural area and there were no ethnic restaurants in the area during most of the time I lived there. In fact, there wasn't even a Chinese place within reasonable distance of my home until a few years before I moved to California and married.
I've had biryani at several Indian places in Japan and though it is often different, it's always been good. Unfortunately, it is also quite expensive, so I rarely have it from restaurants these days. Now that my income is about 1/3 of what it was when I worked full-time, I have to be mindful of these things.
I've been trying to create something close to the biryani I enjoyed at restaurants for some time and have been messing around with a chicken pulao recipe on Quick Indian Cooking for months and months trying to get it to come out somewhere in the neighborhood of the tasty dishes I've had from the kitchens of actual Indian cooks. I made the recipe pretty much as it was given at first, but I think none of the spices I can buy locally are fresh or potent enough to really do a good job. I've tinkered with it and finally come up with something I believe works with the quality and type of spices one can buy in Tokyo. By the way, the reason this is pulao and not biryani is that the rice is cooked with everything else. In biryani, it is cooked separately. If you're interested in authentic Indian cuisine, then I strongly recommend Quick Indian Cooking. The recipes are excellent and easy.
My recipe is quite good, though it certainly is not easy. This is probably the 7th or 8th time I've made this dish and this is the last version. I'm quite pleased with it. The tomato paste really brought something to it and I think this was the best mix of spices considering my limits in terms of freshness and options.
Absolutely Inauthentic Chicken Pulao
for marinade and meat:
- 2 cups low fat yogurt
- 1/4 inch fresh ginger
- 2 small garlic cloves (or 1 big fat one)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. coarse black pepper
- 2 large raw chicken breasts (1/2 breasts, actually) cut into bite-size pieces
- 1/4 inch fresh ginger
- 2 small cloves garlic (or 1 big fat one)
- 1 cinnamon stick broken into 4 pieces
- 1.5 star anise (mine are fragmented such that all the points are broken off, so about 8 "tips")
- 2 small bay leaves (or 1 large one - though I prefer 2 small)
- 2 cardamom pods
- 2 tbsp. tomato paste (in Japan, you can buy this in individual packets with 1 tbsp. in each)
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 1/2 tsp. hot garam masala (use regular if you're sensitive to hot spices)
- salt to taste
- 2 large thinly sliced onions (or 3 small ones)
- 2 cups uncooked rice
- 4 cups chicken stock
- vegetable oil (any unflavored oil) or ghee (clarified butter) as needed (I used Canola oil - but I bet ghee would be tastier and give it that restaurant greasiness)
- 1 very small diced green pepper (optional)
- cashews (optional, as garnish)
Put the yogurt into a bowl with a lid. Add the salt and pepper. Blitz all of the garlic and ginger in a small bowl food processor (or mince the garlic and grate the ginger). Add half of the ginger and garlic to the marinade and set the other half aside to use in cooking. Whisk the spices into the yogurt. Add the chicken, cover with lid, and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours to overnight.
Add about 1-2 tbsp. oil to cover the bottom of a large, deep skillet. Heat the oil over medium-high heat then fry the bay leaves, cardamom pods, star anise, cumin seeds and cinnamon stick pieces until they become fragrant. Create a little free space in the pan and add the ginger and garlic that you previously set aside. Fry the fresh spices until they are aromatic and lightly brown. Be careful not to burn any of the spices. If they start to cook too quickly, turn down the heat.
Add the sliced onions to the spices and stir. Cook the onions until they are golden brown and translucent. They should reduce in size to about half their original volume as you cook. If you want green peppers, add the diced peppers and cook them about halfway through the cooking of the onions. The peppers don't have to be soft, but they should be a little wilted before you move on to adding the chicken.
Push all of the vegetables and spices to one side of the pan. Move the pan off center on the burner such that the vegetables and spices aren't getting much of the main heat from where they have been pushed to the side. Add the chicken and yogurt marinade to the empty side of the pan. Stir the turmeric into the yogurt/chicken mixture. Cook with medium to high heat until slightly browned. A lot of the moisture from the yogurt will boil off, but all of it does not have to. Add the chicken stock, hot garam masala, and tomato paste. Stir these in gently and carefully until they are dissolved. Allow this to simmer for at least 15 minutes, longer is okay, but if too much liquid boils off, you'll need to add in some water to make sure there is enough moisture for cooking the rice.
Add the uncooked rice, stir to distribute the rice evenly and cook over medium heat until it just starts to bubble. Cover the pan and turn the heat down as low as possible while still allowing the dish to simmer. Allow to cook until most of the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. This should take around 40 minutes, but it depends on the kind of rice you use and the type of pan. You'll have to test the rice for doneness by tasting it or cutting it with a fork.
Note: You can salt this at any stage of the cooking or wait and add salt when you eat it. In my experience, it will need to be salted again at some point. The salt from the marinade will not be enough.
For serving, I usually take tongs or chopsticks and pick out all of the bits of whole spices just so we don't have to take them out as we eat or don't accidentally bite into a bit of star anise or a cardamom pod. Also, I don't want stronger spices permeating the finished dish in select spots (esp. the cinnamon) when the leftovers are stored in the refrigerator so I like to get them out before storing.
I think this would also be good if about a handful of raisins were added at the same time as the rice, but my husband doesn't like raisins in these types of dishes so I've never tried it (though all of the biryani I've ever had in restaurants has included raisins). Also, the pictured version does not have green peppers in it, but I have used green pepper in this dish before. It's good, but you have to be careful not to overdo it or the green pepper flavor will be too strong and dominate the dish.
Finally, keep in mind that my spices are crap. I think they're old because most of them are not typical in Japanese cuisine and spend a lot of time on store shelves before being sold. If you are using better quality spices, you may need to scale back to avoid making things too intense.