Last week I spent a lot of time fantasizing about a nice mutton biryani. I know the easiest way one would resort to would probably be picking up the phone and dialing Kareem’s. But the last time I had it from there, it had jeera (cumin seeds) in it, not a very nice feeling really. Also, most of them shops use vegetable fat instead of ghee, no point having doubtful food and feeling guilty about it the entire week. So I, with my sparse kitchen enforcements, decided to brave a biryani for myself. With one induction cooktop (no gas stove) and a microwave, it was a hilariously tiresome proposition. But what the heck? I would have it myself anyways, so no fear of possible criticism. So, the mutton was ordered. The guy on the line asked ‘any specific cuts madam?’ I wasn’t prepared for that question, took a while to gather my memories from what I had heard mom mention dad on Sunday mornings back home. “Agli raan” I muttered. Cuts from the front leg. Had heard dad say that the hind leg isn’t as preferred since those are used for running and hence the muscles are chewy. When the meat arrived, I quickly washed, marinated it and stuck it in the fridge. Would only prepare the biryani the next day. Also, went to the store and fetched some Basmati rice.
1/2 kg mutton (cuts from the leg)
1/3rd kg basmati rice (usually people use equal amounts of rice and meat. I used less rice more meat)
2 large onions
1 inch ginger (grated)
5-6 cloves garlic (crushed)
2 medium or 1 large tomato
2 cups yoghurt
1 stick whole cinnamon
1 bay leaf
Ghee (clarified butter)
Saffron strands (dissolved in warm milk)
The meat was marinated a day in advance in 1 cup yoghurt, turmeric powder, grated ginger and crushed garlic. I soaked the basmati rice in water (usually for 20 mins).
Next I chopped the onions into slices, heated some ghee in a heavy bottom non-stick deep pan, added the whole spices and the chopped onions and fried them on low heat until they were soft and light brown, lightly caramelised. Took half the onions out of the pan and kept it aside.
Added some more ghee and the marinated meat, salt and sugar and seared it, continually stirring on medium heat for about 15 mins (until the meat and the masala stopped sticking to the pan). Added tomatoes and the remaining 1 cup yoghurt, covered and left to simmer on very low heat for about 1hr 15 mins, checking and stirring occasionally, adding a little water from time to time to prevent drying up.
15 mins before the meat was done, I shoved the basmati into the microwave with equal volume of water for 8-9 mins. I left the rice covered for a standing time of 5 more minutes, strained it through a colander and washed it once under the tap to remove any additional surface starch (to avoid lumping).
Next, I took the lid off the mutton which now looks like a thick curry, and add the rice until it covered the mutton entirely.
I topped the rice with the remaining fried onions, saffron strands, dollops of ghee, put the lid back and cooked it on the lowest heat for another 20 mins. (Keep checking in between to see it doesn’t stick to the bottom or burn).
You’ll know you have a good biryani if the rice grains are separate and not clumping together, and the meat has infused with the gravy and breaks into a sticky gooey consistency when pressed between the thumbs.
Admit my biryani tasted pretty nice, but I had to have it for 3 consecutive days to finish it off. The first day I wanted to have it all by myself, the second day I was offering it to a lucky few at office lunch, and on the 3rd day I was doling it out even to my enemies! No the taste hadn’t been affected with time, it was just my eagerness to finish it off and cook something different to eat. But this jugaad* biryani is something I’m quite proud of. Its one of those dishes you would love to show off when you have guests over, and they marvel at the complex looking dish completely oblivious of your shortcut jugaad. In this case of course, I have only reduced the cooking time to some extent, although I must say cooking biryani rice is the microwave is a high risk proposition. But in case of the meat, I am a bit paranoid. A lot of people optimise on the time to cook the meat by pressure cooking it, which in my opinion is high risk, because overcooking could affect the texture of the meat. Slow cooking it, on the other hand, allows one to check the desired level of tenderness before allowing the dum-cooking with rice. And of course, in the end, the more ghee you dab on the rice during the dum-cooking, the better your biryani smells and tastes.
*Jugaad – hindi slang for the art of optimising resources towards a certain desired outcome. Jugaadu is a resourceful person who gets things done without much effort