Lamb or Mutton Biryani
Biryani is typically a layered dish of rice and curry and may be vegetarian or meat based. The curry is sandwiched between 2 layers of rice and baked to allow the aromatic flavours to permeate the rice.
Originally brought to India by Muslim traders, Biryani is derived from Persia with variations being found throughout Asia and Arabia. This recipe has a Hyderabadi influence and is reminiscient of a regal style dish, served to emperors, using Basmati rice as the base and lacing the dish with the indulgence of saffron. The lamb is marinated in yoghurt beforehand, a sure way of tenderising any cut of meat.
Once the Biryani has been assembled the final baking step of this recipe can occur by very slow cooking on a stovetop, moderate baking in a normal oven or by gently heating in a camp oven by applying very low heat to the base and adding generous embers to the lid.
In India the baking dish or pot will often be 'sealed' with a stiff dough rope to prevent steam escaping. Rice continues to be highly absorbant even when fully cooked and the sealing of the pot helps maintain moistness in this dish. A similar result can be achieved by covering the pot with a couple of layers of aluminium foil, shiny side facing the food, and then seating the lid tightly in place.
2 1/2 cups basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon saffron strands
2 tablespoons warm milk
750 grams cubed lamb or mutton cut into 1 1/2cm pieces
4 cloves garlic
2cm piece of fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon powdered turmeric
3/4 cup natural yoghurt
3 tablespoons ghee
5cm piece cinnamon stick
6 whole cardamon pods
1 large brown onion, sliced into paper thin rings
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder or to taste
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground cashews
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons whole cream
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
4 bay leaves
3 1/4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
2 tablespoons slivered almonds, dry roasted in a saucepan until lightly brown
juice of 1 lime
Chop the garlic and ginger very finely and blend together with the turmeric and yoghurt. Alternately, puree all these ingredientds in a blender. Add the meat and refrigerate this marinade for a minimum of 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Wash rice in several changes of water and soak, covered in water, for 30 minutes before draining extremely well.
Gently roast the saffron in a small pan over a low heat for a minute or so and then crumble the saffron between your fingers into the warm milk and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the ghee in a heavy pan over a medium/high heat and add the cinnamon stick and cardamon pods and fry them for a minute until fragrant.
Add the sliced onion and fry, stirring, until the onion turns very brown - nearly crispy.
Add the chilli powder, garam masala, black pepper and ground cashews and a couple of tablespoons of water or enough to make a thick paste.
Cook this paste for ten minutes, stirring constantly until it smells fragrant and begins to colour.
Now add the lamb leaving as much of the marinade behind as possible and stir fry until the meat is coated with the spice/onion paste and has browned.
Add the remaining marinade and the salt and reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender. Stir occasionally. At the end of this cooking process and just before assembling the Biryani, remove the whole spices and blend the cream into this curry.
While the meat cooks prepare the rice by heating the remaining ghee in a pan. Add the cumin seeds and fry for 20 seconds until they 'pop'. Add the rice and stir for a few minutes until each grain becomes coated with oil and the rice begins to lose its transparency.
Add the chicken stock, a pinch of salt and bring to an immediate boil stirring constantly. Reduce heat until barely simmering. Very low heat is all that is required at this stage as the rice begins to absorb the liquid.
Cook for 10 minutes and stir frequently and gently while cooking.
Remove from the heat, cover with a lid and let rice stand for 5 minutes. A more comprehensive article about cooking Indian style rice can be read at Great Camp Food - Rice.
Generously grease the baking pot or dish in which the Biryani is to be cooked with ghee or oil and line the bottom with the bay leaves.
Layer the dish with half the rice followed by the meat and then the remaining rice - 'lasagne' style.
Sprinkle this layer of rice with the saffron milk and then seal and cover as described in the introduction, using dough or foil.
Heat the biryani through, undisturbed on a moderate heat for 20 minutes at 150 degrees celsius in an oven or on a very low temperature on a stovetop or camp oven.
Remove from the heat and garnish with coriander leaves, almonds and the lime juice. Return the lid and rest for 5 minutes.
Biryani is generally served straight from the dish with a spoon and needs nothing more than an Indian style bread like Naan and a green relish or salad.
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