6 lbs chicken, skinless and cut into big pieces
pomegranate arils, nuts, chopped cilantro/coriander for garnish (Optional)
To cook the chicken:
Note: If you do not want to make a completely homemade combination of spices, you can use store bought Biryani Spice Mix, available at the Indian Groceries instead of the the spices in the “to combine” list. I usually use Shan Sindhi Biryani Masala.
For caramelized onions:
For the rice:
Wash the chicken and pat dry. Rub the lemon juice and salt on the pieces and let them sit for about 15 minutes.
Combine all the other in ingredients of the marinade and whisk. Place the salted chicken in the marinade and toss. ( I usually use a large ziploc bag and put everything together in it and give it a good shake). Let the chicken sit in the marinade for at least 2 hours. Overnight really works better.
Heat the 3/4 cup oil in a large pan. Add the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves to the oil; when the spices sizzles and when they are fragrant, add the cumin and the peppercorn. When the cumin starts to sizzle, add the onions and cook till they start turning brown. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and save the marinade. Add the chicken to the pan and cook till the chicken is light brown on both sides. Add the ginger paste, garlic paste and the tomatoes. Toss everything together. Add salt and turmeric and chili peppers and cook till the chicken is completely cooked and the oil starts separating from the sauce. While cooking slowly add the marinade. The chicken should be cooked and there should be about 4 cups of sauce left in the pan.
Caramelizing the onions:
Heat ghee in a pan; add a pinch of sugar and the onions and fry them slowly at low to medium heat till they are caramelized, crisped and dark brown. Once they are uniformly brown , drain on thick layer of kitchen paper, so that extra oil is soaked. As they cool down, the onions will become crispy. Set aside.
Cooking the Rice:
Note: The rice is going to be only partially cooked. The cooking of the rice will be completed when the meat is layered with the partially cooked rice and steamed/baked again.
Wash the rice till water runs clear. Soak the rice in cold water for 30 minutes. Drain. Use 2 cups of water for every cup of rice. (Since I had cooked in a big quantity, I had to cook the rice in 3 containers.) Bring the water to a boil; add salt, oil, garam masala and rice. Cook till the rice is about 3/4 cooked. They will look long and segmented and whitish in some parts. To test, take a grain in between two fingers. If the rice breaks in about 3 parts, the rice is cooked just right. It is very important not to overcook the rice. Drain immediately and spread the rice in a tray/plate for the remaining water to dry off – for about 15 minutes.
Combining yogurt and spices and the chicken:
Whisk the yogurt till smooth and creamy. Combine all the spices and the dried plum and the nuts with the yogurt evenly. Add this mix to the cooked chicken and toss well to combine. DO NOT COOK. Set aside and get ready to layer the rice, chicken spices and the final cooking.
Combine the saffron in warm milk and let it rest for about 10 minutes; the milk will turn deep yellow. If you are using orange food color, use a couple of drops in the milk.
Divide the caramelized onions, so you have about a few tablespoons left for final garnish of the finished dish.
You will need a thick bottomed deep pot with a very tight fitting lid. If you want to cook in the oven, use a an oven safe deep dish.
Coat the bottom of the pot with ghee. Spoon a thin layer of the sauce from the cooked chicken. The bottom most layer has to be the sauce to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom. Next will be a layer of rice. Do not make a thick layer; it should be about 2 cups of rice for each layer. Over the rice layer, spoon some of the sauce and the chicken and gently spread it out evenly. Add some of the caramelized onions, top a tablespoon of chopped cilantro, and a tablespoon of ghee. Next drizzle some of the saffron milk. Cover this layer with another layer of rice. Keep going with the rice, meat/sauce, caramelized onion, cilantro/coriander, ghee and saffron milk sequence. The top most layer has to be rice.
(Since I had a big quantity, I used 2 big pots to cook the Biryani)
After the final layer of rice is done, use the back of a wooden spoon and make several (about 6) holes from the top layer to the bottom of the top. This allows the stream to distribute and cook evenly. Drizzle the rest of the saffron milk on the top. Drizzle a few drops of screw pine/kewra and/or rose water. Cover the pot tightly. (If the cover if not tight enough, use aluminum foil to tightly cover the pot and use the pot over over that.
If cooking on the stove top:
Leave the pot on the stove top at the lowest heat and cook for about 30-40 minutes.
If cooking in the oven:
Cook in the oven at 350 degree F for about 30-40 minutes.
Serve warm/hot as a mail meal.
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