Hyderabadi chicken biryani is an aromatic, mouth watering and authentic Indian dish with succulent chicken in layers of fluffy rice, fragrant spices and fried onions. It is easier than most recipes while retaining the original taste and presented step by step. Cook like a native but with more ease!
This blog features healthy and delicious recipes, but as detailed in my food philosophy, there are some special times to enjoy our food cravings. Save this rich and delicious step by step biryani recipe prepared in dum style for a festive time!
What is Biryani?
Biryani is a classic Indian mixed rice dish that is part of the Indian Mughlai culinary tradition, which traces its roots to central Asian cuisine and a rich fusion with Indian flavors and techniques. It is prepared with layers of fluffy basmati rice and exquisitely spiced meat or chicken.
Classic biryani can justly be called the crown jewel of Indian cuisine, a dream dish that should not be missed.
Hyderabad, the city of my childhood, is justly famous for its biryani - an addictive delicious rice and meat/chicken dish. And Hyderabadi biryani is by far the most favored among the other regional versions.
There are two versions of Hyderabadi biryani:
- Pakki biryani - cooked meat or chicken is layered with parboiled rice and steamed together.
- Kacchi biryani - raw marinated meat or chicken is placed in a single layer in the bottom of cooking pot and topped with partially cooked rice and steamed together. This is the easier method.
What sets apart biryani is the texture of the rice grains - fluffy and separate, they almost scatter like pearls. With this recipe you will get that perfection every single time!
Why This Recipe Works
- You don't have to cook the chicken separately before layering it with the rice.
- Reliable and easy rice cooking technique for perfectly fluffy rice.
See the buzz about this Chicken Biryani.
basmati rice, chicken, yogurt, spices, cilantro, mint, saffron, ginger, garlic, lemon juice, chili peppers, fried onions, oil/ghee
- Basmati Rice: Use the highest quality aged long grain basmati rice from a popular brand. Ask your local Indian grocer for the best variety in any brand, which is typically the most expensive.
- Chicken with bone: It is best to use whole chicken, with bone, cut and clean. Chicken leg quarters or thighs will work too. Avoid chicken breast as it will be too dry. For boneless option, use chicken thigh meat.
- Yogurt: A key ingredient, this should neither be too thick nor too runny. For a dairy-free option, try coconut yogurt.
- You will need whole spices and ground spices. They are available at Indian grocery stores for a good price or online.
- Whole spices can be wrapped in muslin cloth or a metal mesh cooking infuser.
- A bulk biryani masala recipe is below. For a store-bought option, try Shaan Sindhi biryani masala, but adjust the salt and chili powder in the recipe.
- Herbs: Use fresh herbs when you can. Frozen cilantro and dried mint can also work for the marinade.
- Ginger and Garlic: Use fresh for a world of difference.
- Saffron: Choose best quality saffron. For more on that, check the post on Saffron Tea.
- Onions: Slice the onions very thin. I use my mandolin slicer. Sprinkle some flour on the onions before frying, to make them fry quicker and crisper. For gluten-free, try corn starch or rice flour plus corn starch.
- Ghee: A drizzle of ghee on the top will take it to the next level
Step by Step Overview
**Full recipe at the end of post.
- Fried Onions: Slice onions very finely and fry until crisp and light golden brown.
- Chicken Marination: Combine chicken with all marinade ingredients, ⅓ fried onions and ground biryani spice blend.
- Rice Preparation: Rinse basmati rice until clear. Soak ⅓ cup rice in water. Cook remaining rice in rice cooker.
- Assemble Rice and Chicken Layers: Transfer chicken with marinade to a cooking pot. Top with chopped cilantro, mint, half lemon juice, some olive oil and most of the remaining fried onions.
- Add Soaked Rice: Drain and spread it over the chicken.
- Final Rice Layer: Layer all cooked rice. Top with remaining fried onions, lemon juice, saffron water and ghee over the rice.
- Steaming: Cover with parchment paper, followed by aluminum foil and fit the lid tight over it. Bake in oven for one hour, until steam builds up well.
- On Stove top: Alternatively, heat biryani at medium high for 10 to 15 minutes and then simmer at low for one hour until steam builds up well.
- Cool biryani for five minutes. Gently mix rice and chicken and serve.
What to Serve With Biryani
Biryani is typically served at festive occasions and considered a complete meal, along with a saucy side dish such as baghare baingan (eggplants in rich sauce), mirchi ka salan (chili peppers in creamy sauce) or Hyderabadi tomato egg curry and a yogurt salad called raita.
For a more elaborate festive menu, you can add other dishes such as:
- Mains: Nihari, Chicken Korma, Egg Curry
- Bread: Naan, Paratha
- Vegetarian: Aloo Gobi, Tadka Dal
- Appetizers: Meat Cutlets, Fish Cutlets, Crispy Samosa Rolls
- Desserts: Kheer, Falooda
Grind all the spices below into a fine powder and store in airtight container. One fourth of this blend will be enough for the biryani recipe in this post. To make it more spicy, use extra spice blend.
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 4 black cardamom
- 20 green cardamom
- 1 teaspoon cloves
- 4 large bay leaves
- 4 teaspoons black cumin seeds (shahjeera)
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
- ⅛ teaspoon mace (optional)
The most important spices are cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. There are regional variations to the above mix which also include some coriander seeds, cumin seeds etc., but the list of spices above are the dominant ones in traditional biryani spice blends.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you take a fistful of biryani and throw it on a plate, the rice should scatter as fluffy grains and not clump together. The meat or chicken should be well done, juicy and falling off the bone.
It is best to use a wide and thick bottomed cooking pot over the stove. A dutch oven that is 5 to 6 quart will work well. Very deep and tall pots are not suitable.
If cooking on stove top, placing the cooking pot over a flat griddle or heat diffuser, will help prevent the rice in the bottom from getting burnt.
Choose highest quality aged long grain basmati rice from a popular brand. Most brands offer a variety of basmati rice, from standard to ultra special. For wide selection, check out larger Indian grocery stores or online.
If using the traditional boiling method (cooked like pasta), it will take between 4 to 5 minutes to for perfect doneness. Drain the rice on time.
For traditional method boil rice in lots of salted water, using a ratio of 3 cups of water with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 cup of rice. For rice cooker method test a ratio of 1¼ to 1½ cups water for 1 cup rice (differs with age of rice).
Rule of thumb is to use equal amounts of rice and chicken by weight, which is 1:1 (one pound rice to one pound chicken). If you want more chicken you can use a ratio of 1:1.5 or 1:2.
Use thinly sliced onions. Fry them in batches using fresh oil, until crisp and light golden brown. Don't let it turn soggy or dark brown. Drain on paper towels.
If using traditional method then cook rice in plenty of salted water just for 4 to 6 minutes until it is parboiled, making sure the grains don't get overcooked. Soak rice prior to cooking to make the grains stronger. Use optimal amount of water. And cook biryani in a wide cooking pot.
Use chicken on bone. Cook with enough yogurt and juices but don't overcook the meat. Use optimal amount of water for the rice. And if rice is undercooked before steaming, then sprinkle some water all over before placing the lid.
Any water that is collected over marinated chicken should be scooped out and discarded. Do not use too much yogurt. Excess juices can be cooked off by evaporating while stirring on high heat and without the lid. Do not overcook the rice, but if it get's overcooked then spread it on a large plate and aerate a bit before layering.
Biryani is prepared by layering parboiled basmati rice, marinated or cooked meat/chicken, fried onions, fresh herbs, lemon juice, saffron water, etc., and then steaming it together. The final dish will have fluffy rice grains in a variety of colors from the absorption of spices, juices and saffron.
Indian pulao (pilaf) is prepared as a one pot dish. Sauteed onions, spices, meat or chicken, herbs and measured amount of water or stock are all cooked together until well done. The rice grains will have a uniform color from the mixture of spices and juices.
The mouthfeel and taste of biryani and pulao are expected to be quite different.
This easy chicken biryani dish can be prepared with brown basmati rice, supplemented with quinoa and such.
More Rice Recipes:
- Hyderabadi Lamb Biryani
- Saffron rice with chicken, yogurt and spinach
- Persian shrimp rice
- Persian green bean rice
★ DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? PLEASE COMMENT AND GIVE IT A STAR RATING BELOW!
Zaalouk (Moroccan Eggplant Dip)
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Preheat oven to 400˚F. Prick the eggplants with a fork in couple spots and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until the skin turns darker and shrinks. Check foot notes for grilling, broiling or stove top options.
- The eggplants should be cooked through completely in the center. To check, press the back of a fork on the eggplant. It should compress easily all the way into the center without any resistance.
- Cut through the eggplant skin and scoop out the soft cooked flesh and mash it with a fork and set aside.
- Chop the tomatoes into small pieces, discarding some seeds if you wish. See note below for peeled and deseeded tomatoes.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan at medium setting. Add the chopped tomatoes, minced garlic, paprika, cumin, cayenne or chili powder, ⅓ teaspoon salt and cook until tomatoes are softened, stirring in between, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Add the mashed eggplants and cilantro. Continue to cook over low heat for another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, mashing it if needed, into a thick but slightly textured dip like consistency.
- Stir in lemon juice and salt. Adjust as per taste, let it cool and transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate it overnight before serving.
- Take the zaalouk from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving and let it come to room temperature. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Garnish with cilantro and red pepper flakes if you prefer.
- Chunky Zaalouk: To make a chunkier but less traditional zaalouk, insert garlic cloves into eggplant and roast it in the oven at 400˚F, along with the tomatoes. Chop the eggplants and tomatoes. Add the spices, herbs, half the olive oil, salt and mash it up to desired consistency. Drizzle olive oil and serve.
- Cooking Eggplants:
- Grill: Roast eggplants on charcoal or gas grill for 20 to 30 minutes, turning them slowly in between, until skin turns darker and shrinks.
- Broil: Cut eggplants lengthwise into halves and place the cut side down on a foil lined baking sheet. Place on the second rack and broil until skin turns darker and shrinks, about 20 minutes.
- Stovetop: Peel the eggplants completely, only some stripes or leave the skin on if you don’t mind it. Cut the eggplants into small pieces. Steam on high heat until soft or cook in a pan with some water until soft and mushy.
- Easy Zaalouk: Combine all ingredients with ⅓ cup of water and cook it over stove top until softened. Mash it up well and drizzle olive oil.
- Peeled and deseeded tomatoes: If you prefer, you can blanch the tomatoes. Cut a small cross on the surface of tomatoes and dump them in hot boiling water. After a minute, pick out the tomatoes and peel the skin, cut them into halves and deseed. Chop them into small pieces.
- Use more tomatoes if you want the dip to be saucy. You may even try using a little bit of tomato paste to give it thickness.
- Leftovers: Can be refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. You can freeze zaalouk for couple months. Thaw and reheat. Adjust the consistency, evaporating or adding water as needed. Check the seasoning as well.
- Nutrition facts not including any added salt.
- For other variations, tips and serving suggestions, scroll up the page to the blog post.
Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani
- ¾ lb onions yellow, finely sliced
- 1½ cups peanut oil
SPICES (see note)
- Fry onions in batches. Do not crowd the pan. Fry until crisp light golden brown. Set aside.
- Combine chicken with all marinade ingredients and ⅓ of fried onions. TIP: Add yogurt, starting with ½ cup and increase as needed to ¾ cup. The mixture should be thick and not runny.
- Grind biryani spices in a spice grinder. Add to chicken marinade and combine. Marinate for about 3 to 5 hours.
RICE PREPARATION WITH RICE COOKER
- Rinse rice 4 to 5 times in lots of water until it is clear. Drain well. Soak ⅓ cup basmati rice in water for one hour. Save the rest.
- Bring 2¼ cups of water to a rolling boil in a rice cooker. Add ¾ teaspoon salt, 1½ tablespoons olive oil and whole spices (see note). Then add remaining 1⅔ cups basmati rice and stir. Let it cook just until all the water is absorbed (see notes).
- It is important to NOT let the rice steam until it is fully done. Just when all the water is well absorbed, transfer cooked rice immediately to another wide open pan. In my rice cooker the whole process takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
ASSEMBLY OF RICE AND CHICKEN LAYERS
- Transfer chicken with marinade to a 4 to 5 quart wide thick bottomed oven proof cooking pot (9 to 10 inch diameter). Make sure there is not too much marinade around chicken pieces and that it is not runny.
- Scatter cilantro, mint, half the lemon juice and ½ tablespoon olive oil over the chicken/marinade. Then scatter most of the fried onions.
- Drain the soaked basmati rice very well and spread it over the fried onion layer. (This raw soaked rice will get cooked with the juices from chicken).
- Next, layer all the cooked rice. Top with remaining lemon juice, saffron water, fried onions and ghee.TIP: If you prefer, you may pick out the whole spices from cooked rice before steaming.
- Place one sheet of parchment paper, followed by one to two sheets of aluminum foil over the cooking pot. Place the lid tight over it. Bake biryani in a preheated oven at 350ºF for one hour, until steam builds up well.
- Alternatively, it can be cooked on a stove in a thick bottomed cooking pot. Heat the biryani at medium high for about 10 to 15 minutes and then reduce to low and cook for one hour until steam builds up well.
- Let it cool five minutes and gently mix rice and chicken. Using a spatula mound the biryani on a serving plate, making sure to present the rice in various colors - white, yellow, orange and brown. Place some chicken pieces on the top. Scatter browned onions, chopped herbs and extra saffron rice on top.
- Serve chicken biryani with Hyderabadi tomato egg curry and/or raita prepared with creamy yogurt, chopped red onions, deseeded jalapenos and cilantro.
- Rinse basmati rice several times until the water is clear and not starchy.
- Perfectly fluffy rice grain is essential for the taste of biryani.
- Basmati rice typically will need less water than other long grain rice varieties to yield fluffy cooked rice.
- Rice cooker: use minimal water to cook the rice. With a new batch of basmati rice, test 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups water per cup of rice and check what works.
- Aged basmati rice will give the best results and is more fragrant.
- Additional moisture: Keep in mind moisture from other ingredients such as the chicken, herbs and yogurt. So the cooked rice should be fluffy, separate, retain shape well, not too wet and delicate. The soaked rice should be drained very well. Chicken should be just lightly coated with the marinade. If the marinade is excessive it can result in the rice becoming soggy.
- Slice onions finely: I used the 7.5 mm setting on my mandolin slicer.
- Adjust oil as needed: If frying directions are followed properly, then oil absorbed by onions should be about 1½ tablespoons. But if not followed, then more oil will be absorbed and amount needed should be adjusted.
- Alternative to frying onions: If you are unable to fry onions then saute them until crisp golden brown like in this Persian noodle soup recipe and adjust oil used for rice and chicken.
- Branded biryani spice mixes may include salt and chili powder. If using that, then salt and chili powder should be adjusted. I do not use commercial biryani spice mix, but have been told that the Shaan Sindhi biryani mix can be a close substitute. It is spicy so use carefully.
- Chicken: It is best to use whole chicken, with bone, cut and clean. You may use chicken leg quarters or thighs too, but avoid chicken breast as it will be too dry.
- Optimal amount of salt and oil is very important. If everything else is perfect and you don't use right amount of salt, that alone can ruin the taste of biryani. I use a minimum of 2 tablespoons of oil per cup of raw rice, as there are additional ingredients - chicken, onions, etc.
- Whole spices can also be cooked wrapped in a muslin cloth, like the one used for boquet garni or a metal mesh cooking infuser. If using whole spices for the marinade, just double the amount of spices in the recipe. When whole spices are ground, the flavors are more intense.
- Make Ahead: Chicken can be mixed with the marinade a day before. Make the fried onions ahead.
- Storage and Freezing: Biryani freezes beautifully. Leftovers can be stored in refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or frozen for later.
- Scale Recipe: Click on number of servings and slide. Adjust the cooking pot size.
- Ghee: It is available at many supermarkets and Indian grocery stores. You can easily make it at home from butter following the instructions in this chickpea cookie recipe notes section.
- Shajeera: These are referred to as black cumin or black caraway seeds in Indian stores. The labeling is not consistent. Ask your Indian grocer for “shahjeera”.
More Indian Recipes:
This post was first published on May 1st 2016 and has been updated with improvements in recipe formatting, tips, FAQs and additional enhancements.