chicken biryani

This chicken biryani, or murgh biryani,  comes from Rajasthan. It is delicately scented with rosewater and cardamom, but the chicken pieces have some heat. If differs from other styles of biryani because of this heat, which is not common in most biryani preparations.

This is the simplest biryani in this book, and does not take long to prepare. You do need to start the day before to allow the chicken to marinate at least overnight.

This is a complete meal on its own, and is a common family meal.

There are a couple of really important matters to get right for this dish to succeed and impress your diners.

You need to use a good quality basmati rice, and it must be washed and soaked before cooking. You must try to get the rice cooked and the chicken cooked at the same time to allow you to assemble the dish with rice still steaming. It is better to have the chicken wait for the rice, rather than the other way around.

The rosewater, or gulab jal, is a key ingredient of this dish. Whilst it is available from supermarkets, the Indian brands taste better and are more aromatic.

The onions should be cooked until they are deep  golden brown. Not dark brown or black, because that means they are burnt, and will ruin the dish. Notice they won’t seem crisp when you remove them from the pan, but will crisp quickly once drained.

When you turn out the dish there will be a layer of golden brown crisp rice at the bottom of the pan. This will be from the ghee frying the bottom layer of the rice. If you cooked this on a low enough heat it will be a golden brown. Make sure you scrape this out and add to the dish – it is an important part of the flavour. If you cooked on too high a heat it will be dark brown, and likely have a burnt taste, so discard it. It is best to taste it before adding to the dish.

the recipe

preparation:15 mins
cook:45 mins
soak:30 mins
total:1 hr
servings:6 servings
calories:780 kcal


  • 500 g chicken thigh fillets - trimmed and cut into 5cm pieces

for the marinade

for the saffron

for the rice

  • 300 g basmati rice
  • ½ tsp salt

for the onions

for the masala

to assemble

  • 100 g ghee
  • 2 tsp rosewater

to serve

  • 20 g raw cashews - dry-roasted until golden-brown
  • 20 g raw pistachios - dry-roasted until golden-brown
  • 1 sprig coriander leaves


  • In a shallow bowl large enough to contain all the chicken pieces, combine all the marinade ingredients. Toss or mix to coat well and then set aside to marinate overnight.
  • Wash the basmati rice in several changes of cold water until water remains clear. Cover the rice with cold water and set aside to soak for at least 30 minutes. Drain when ready to start preparing the dish.
  • Soak saffron threads in warm milk, and set aside.

to cook

  • Heat the vegetable oil in a pan or karahi over a medium heat. Add the onions and fry for 10 minutes, or until deep golden-brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with absorbent paper. Set aside.
  • Add the whole spices to the pan and fry for one minute. Add the chicken and marinade, bring to a simmer, then stir in the tomatoes and salt. Simmer uncovered over a medium heat for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is clinging to the chicken. Add as little water as possible to stop sauce from sticking to pan. It’s important that the sauce is almost dry by this stage and just coating the chicken. Set aside and keep warm.
  • Drain the soaked rice and tip into a large pan with two litres of water. Add salt, bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for five minutes, or until the rice is just tender but still firm. Remove from heat and drain well
  • Assemble the biryani straight away while the rice is still hot. You will want to get five layers - rice, chicken, rice, chicken, rice. First, pour about three tablespoons of water and half of the ghee into a deep, heavy-based cooking pot or casserole, then spoon in a third of the rice. Sprinkle over about a third of the saffron milk and rosewater, then spread with half of the chicken mixture and a third of the fried onions.
  • Add another third of the rice and repeat as above, using the rest of the chicken. Top with the remaining rice and splash with the remaining saffron milk and rosewater. Drizzle the remaining ghee around the edges of the rice so that it drips down the inside of the pan.
  • Cover with a well-fitting lid. Put over a high heat to get the ghee hot and some steam going – lift up the lid to check. As soon as you see steam rising, turn down to a very low heat and cook for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and allow to stand for five minutes.

to serve

  • Turn out onto a large serving platter. Scrape the bottom of the pan to collect the crusty golden pieces from the bottom. Scatter with the rest of the crisp onions and toasted cashews and pistachios. Garnish with coriander sprig and serve.


  • 300g of uncooked rice is approximately 1½ metric cups.
  • The bottom of the pan will contain crusty, golden fried pieces of rice. These are an important part of the dish and should be used. If you have cooked on too high a temperature these will appear dark brown and are probably burnt, so should be discarded.
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