Preparation info

  • Serves

    6

Appears in

Here’s the best of northern India’s creations, Tandoori chicken curry and saffron-scented basmati rice, piled into a casserole to make a luscious meal. I often serve it with a yogurt-based raita and with flame-toasted Papads for a delicious Sunday supper. The recipe asks you to prepare the rice in two stages, but don’t judge a book (except mine) by its cover. It’s actually a very easy dish to prepare and can be assembled as much as a day in advance. Bake it just before you plan to serve it; the aromas emanating from the oven will make you appreciate it even more.

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Ingredients

  • cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon Ginger Paste
  • 1 tablespoon Garlic Paste
  • 2 teaspoons Balti masala
  • 2 teaspoons ground Kashmiri chiles; or ½ teaspoon cayenne (ground red pepper) mixed with teaspoons sweet paprika
  • coarse kosher or sea salt
  • 1 chicken ( pounds) skin removed, cut into 8 pieces (see box)
  • 1 cup Indian or Pakistani white basmati rice
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons Ghee or butter
  • ½ cup tomato sauce, canned or homemade
  • ½ cup chopped fresh or frozen fenugreek leaves (thawed if frozen); or 2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves, soaked in a bowl of water and skimmed off before use (see box)
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne (ground red pepper)
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream or half-and-half, warmed

Method

  1. Combine the yogurt, Ginger Paste, Garlic Paste, Balti masala, Kashmiri chiles, and 1 teaspoon salt in a small bowl, and whisk to blend. Smear this orange-red marinade over the chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or as long as overnight, to allow the flavors to permeate the meat.
  2. Start the rice: Place the rice in a medium-size bowl. Fill the bowl halfway with water, to cover the rice. Gently rub the slender grains through your fingers, without breaking them, to wash off any dust or light foreign objects (like loose husks), which will float to the surface. The water will become cloudy. Drain this water. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear; drain. Now fill the bowl halfway with cold water and let it sit at room temperature until the grains soften, about 30 minutes; drain.
  3. While the rice is soaking, prepare the chicken: Heat a gas or charcoal grill to high, or preheat the oven to 350°F.
  4. If you are grilling, spray the grill grate with cooking spray. Place the chicken, meat side down, on the grate. (Reserve any marinade for basting the chicken.) Cover, and grill the chicken, basting it occasionally with the remaining marinade and turning the pieces over halfway through, until the meat in the thickest parts is still slightly pink inside and half-cooked, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate while you quickly make the sauce.

    If you are oven-roasting the chicken, place a rack in a roasting pan and spray it with cooking spray. Place the chicken, meat side down, on the rack. (Reserve any marinade for basting the chicken.) Roast, basting it occasionally with the remaining marinade and turning the pieces over halfway through, until the meat in the thickest parts is still slightly pink inside and half-cooked, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate while you quickly make the sauce.

  5. To make the sauce, heat the ghee in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the tomato sauce, fenugreek leaves, cayenne, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, to allow the flavors to meld, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the partially cooked chicken pieces and stir them in to make sure they are well coated.
  6. Meanwhile, back to the rice: Stir the saffron into the warmed cream and let it steep for about 5 minutes; the sun-orange threads will tint the cream with their sensuous color.
  7. Fill a medium-size saucepan three-fourths full of water, and bring it to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon salt, add the drained rice, and stir once or twice to separate the grains. Once the water comes to a boil again, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring very infrequently, until the rice is partially cooked, 3 to 5 minutes. Quickly drain the rice in a colander and then dump it back into the same saucepan. Pour the saffron-kissed cream into it and stir well to coat the grains.
  8. Position a rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat the oven to 300°F. Lightly spray the interior of a medium-size casserole dish with cooking spray. (If you have a clear glass dish, use it; the layers will be beautifully visible when you serve the biryani.)
  9. Spread half of the saffron rice evenly in the prepared casserole, forming the bottom layer. Spread the chicken curry over the rice, and then spread the remaining saffron rice over the curry. (The saffron threads tell your guests that not only have you made something special for them, you have also splurged on expensive ingredients.) Cover the casserole with its lid or with aluminum foil, sealing it tightly.
  10. Place the dish in the oven and bake until the meat in the thickest parts of the chicken is no longer pink inside and its juices run clear, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  11. Remove the dish from the oven and uncover it to reveal the steaming hot, perfectly cooked rice with spicy-hot chicken underneath. When you serve the biryani, scoop out portions that contain all three layers.
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