Saturday, February 2, 2013

Chicken Biryani : The Bridge to India

One can't really talk about Kuwaiti/Khaleeji cuisine without mentioning Indian food. It just has a strong presence and a big influence on our diet. We eat chapati for breakfast, biryanis and tandories for dinner and samosas for, well, anytime snack. Indian restaurants are all over the city, from high end to small street little shops. 

The relationship with india is as old as Kuwait its self. Before discovering the oil, people in Kuwait used to rely on going in the sea collecting pearls and then selling those to the nearby countries. And many of those business relationships were made with India; selling them their precious pearls in exchange for  spices, textiles , tea and other goodies.

When the oil was discovered in Kuwait in 1936 and the country was transformed from just a tiny town on the shore of the Persian Gulf  to a modern city with all kinds of buildings and businesses the relationship with India did not stop. Kuwait, now needing more human workforce to run the country started to welcome indian people in need for jobs. Nowadays we have a large indian community and Indian men and women fill jobs from hairdressers in saloons to CEOs of large companies and banks. And their flavorful, aromatic cuisine continues to influence our diet. 

Essentially a protein stir fry sandwiched between two layers of rice, biryani is one of those dishes that are created, recreated and reinterpreted again and again. And there is possibly hundreds if not thousands of recipes for biryani. I don't claim any authenticity or superiority to this recipe, but whenever my mom is asked to bring in a dish for a potluck or a family gathering she is often asked to bring in one these dishes: her meat stew, stuffed zucchini or chicken biryani. I think this says a lot about how delicious this recipe is.

If you find yourself liking spicy Indian food then you should check out Kulsum's recipes on Journey Kitchen. She is an Indian living in Kuwait and she shares Indian food recipes on her blog along with beautiful stories about her childhood and gorgeous photography. 

Chicken Biryani 

serves 4-6


2 cups basmati rice
6 cups water
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp saffron leaves soaked in 1 Tbs hot water

1 whole chicken
2 medium onions thinly sliced
1/4 cup oil
1 large tomato finally chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 whole hot pepper * ( use jalepanio if you don't want it too spicy, or use red chili if you want it spicy)
2 Tbs chopped and minced fresh ginger
7 whole cardamom ( plus more for rice and chicken boiling)
3 bay leaves (plus more for rice and chicken boiling)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp whole black pepper corn
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
2-3 Tbs dried cilantro
1 Tbs tomato paste


For the rice

- Measure rice in a ball. Wash and rinse 7 times then cover with water and set a side.
- In a large sauce pan bring 6 cups of water to boil. Once boiled, add the salt , 2 whole cardamom and one bay leaf. Rinse the rice and add to the boiling water. Cook on medium for 5-7 minutes until rice is cooked but still has a bite *. Take off the heat and rinse the rice in a colander. Set a side.

- Wash chicken and transfer to a large sauce pan. Cover with water. Add a dash of salt, 2 whole cardamom and one bay leaf. Cover and bring to boil. Turn off the heat to medium-low and cook until the chicken is cooked and tender. About 30-40 minutes.

- Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan add the oil and sliced onions. Cook on medium heat until the onion turns golden brown. Set a side.

- Finally chop garlic cloves and hot pepper. Combine with minced ginger and set aside.

- Combine whole spices in a small bowl and set them a side.

- Combine ground spices with the salt  and set them aside.

- After 30 minutes check the chicken for tenderness. If tender, turn off the heat, reserve 1/4 cup of the chicken stock and drain the rest. Let the chicken cool for a little bit. Then, with your hands, cut it into pieces. Discard most of the skin and the bones, but not all.

- In a wide pan, heat 2 Tbs of the onion oil, add whole spices and continue to heat the oil for 2 more minutes until you can smell the fragrance of the spices. Add chicken pieces and sauté until golden brown. Add ground spices, garlic, ginger and pepper mixture and continue to cook. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, dried cilantro and chicken stock. Continue to cook until everything in incorporated and tomatoes have softened. Add sliced onions.

- At this point, taste for salt and spiciness. If it is too spicy, add more tomatoes and tomato paste. If not as spicy as you like it, add more chili powder.

- In the same saucepan that you cooked the rice with, add 1 Tbs of the onion oil. Add half the rice, then add the chicken mixture and then the remaining of the rice. Add the saffron water on top. Cover and on medium-low heat let everything cook until steam comes out of the pot. About 7-15 minutes. Turn off the heat and serve.

* How many hot peppers  to include is up to you and how spicy you like your food to be.

* How long the rice needs to cooks will depend largly on the time it has been soaked in the water. The longer it has soaked, the shorter the time it will need to cook. If it's your first time making basmati rice, once the water and the rice comes to boil again check on the rice, and continue to check until it has reached that stage where it is cooked but still has a bite. Not the time it took for the rice to cook and how long you have soaked it in water before. Make that your guidline for next time you make basmati rice.

how i like it: we often serve biryani with achar, hot sauce and yougurt. Adults who like their food super spicy will eat their biryani with hot sauce and achar. And we will add yogurt to kids's plates to take off the heat a little bit.


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  2. I ate i once on my friends wedding and absolutely loved it. Thank you for your recipe, I'll try to do it soon and will let you know how I get on with it.
    xox, Wioleta

    PS. Hello fellow BYW student :)

    1. Hi Radostina...Love your name by the way :)
      Biryani is very spicy and delicious..hope you'll like my recipe.

      Thanks for stopping by

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