Mutton Biryani

Biryani with mutton

The combination of rice and meat or vegetables is always a wholesome and comforting meal and I’m glad I made mutton biryani for lunch today. It turned out to be just the way it should be and it was better than the last time I made it. It was worth lighting up the coals and doing the finishing touches the old-fashioned way. For the accompaniment it was cucumber raita. Two tender cucumbers grated and mixed into whipped curd, seasoned with rock salt and sugar, and garnished with red chilli powder and toasted and ground cumin. A Sunday lunch couldn’t have been more satisfying.

Mutton biryani and cucumber raita
Creating the layers

The meat:
500 grams mutton cut in larger-than-usual pieces
3 onions chopped fine
10 cloves of garlic
Thumb-size ginger
Biryani masala (I used the one I bought in Kashmir)
Chilli powder, according to taste
Salt to taste
A pinch of turmeric powder
A tsp of coarsely grated pepper
Garam masala paste made of a stick of cinnamon, a few cloves, 3 cardamoms, 5 cloves & a bit of mace
1 star anise/a few bay leaves/1 stick of cinnamon to temper the oil before adding the meat
4 tbs curd
Bay leaves/tejpatta

Make a rough paste of the garlic and ginger. Marinate the mutton with the spices and keep aside for at least two hours.
Heat oil in a pan. When it comes to smoking point, add the star anise, cinnamon stick and bay leaves.
Add the onions and fry for a few minutes.
Add the meat and stir. Keep cooking, stir during intervals.
Let it cook till the oil separates. Add the curd (beaten) and then the garam masala.
After a few minutes, remove from the flame and keep aside.

The rice:
400 grams basmati rice
3 large onions, finely sliced
A large pinch of saffron
3 tbs warm milk, to soak the saffron
Some butter or ghee
Whole spices to be added to the rice
Two bunches of coriander leaves, washed and chopped fine
A thick bunch of mint leaves, chopped fine
Oil to fry the onions

Wash and soak the rice for a short while. Then drain in a colander.
In a large pan, heat water. The volume should be a little more than double the quantity of the rice. Add salt and whole spices of your choice to the water. I used two star anise, a few crushed cardamoms, some cloves, three sticks of cinnamon and some peppercorns.
When the water comes to the boil, add the rice. Cook till it is almost done as the final stage of cooking will be after the layering.
Drain in a colander. You can remove the whole spices at this point.

Heat some oil in a pan and fry the sliced onions till they turn golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper.
Grease a heavy-bottomed pan with butter.
Put a layer of rice and top with half of the meat. Scatter the fried onions, the saffron, and the herbs on top of the rice.
Dot the surface with butter.
Create another layer in the same way. Dot again with butter.
Cover with a lid and cook on hot coals for about 25 minutes. Hot coals must be placed on the lid as well. Alternately, this can be cooked in a hot oven.

The pan that I used was not heavy-bottomed. So I added  the round ‘plate’ from a loose-bottomed pie tin which sat comfortably at the bottom of the pan. So there was no browning there.
I did not put it on dum, the method where you seal the edges of the pan with freshly kneaded wheat dough although that is also a popular way of cooking biryani. I usually do that when I cook larger quantities. There are so many ways of cooking biryani and I’m sure everyone will have their own version. But the result of putting meat and rice together in a dish will always be delicious!

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