The Story of Biriyani
I could challenge you to find a single south/central Asian who doesn’t love biriyani and be quite confident of my chances at victory. To us, biriyani is more than just a plate of rice and meat. Oh dear, calling it just food would be an abomination. If you’re sitting there wondering what’s the big deal with biriyani, or maybe even wondering what on earth it is, you’re in the right place.
Let’s start with etymology. The word Biryiani is derived from the Persian word Birian meaning “fried before cooking”. It is worth noting that Farsi and Persian culture played a significant part in shaping the Indian subcontinent, most likely during the Mughal period. What we know is that the concept and the style of cooking made its way through the trade routes, but it’s still unclear whether it’s Persian or Arab. As a matter of fact, there are also a few legends flying around. One of them claims that Mumtaz Mahal, wife of emperor Shahjahan, devised this as a quick way to feed the army when they were out in the field. Regardless of where it came from, it is a work of genius. It combines two components of a typical Asian meal (rice and meat) into a single dish. As a result, it is the first choice to serve in festivals, weddings, and dawaats (dinner/lunch invitations).
The biriyani is categorized as two main types based on cooking method, and then divided into further sub-categories, depending on the spices and type of meat.
Kacchi Biriyani: Raw meat and raw rice are layered together with a spicy marinate and then cooked in a sealed pot. The seal keeps in the heat allowing the flavours to infuse better. While the term Kacchi refers to a large category, there is one particular type of biriyani which has taken the alias of Kacchi or Kutchi. It is also referred to as Memoni biriyani and is usually served in wedding receptions in Bangladesh. It uses less colour and tomato paste (virtually none), and thus looks much whiter than other forms of biriyani. Nonetheless, the taste is simply sublime, especially when cooked over a wood fire, giving the meat a charred smoky, flavor. One of the biggest masters of Kacchi Biriyani in Bangladesh was Mr.Fakhruddin, who started his cooking business by selling lunches in my mother’s school and then went on to establish a biriyani catering empire.
Dhaka style Kacchi Biriyani
Pakki Biriyani: The meat is pre-cooked before mixing in with the rice. The Lucknow Biriyani is an example of Pakki Biriyani. Over the summer, I devised a new recipe for a type of Pakki Biriyani, which I called the Dhaka Nawabi Biriayni. I haven’t perfected the recipe, but it tasted quite good. The recipe is given below.
Dhaka Nawabi Biriyani
|Recipe for Dhaka Nawabi Biriyani:
3-4 Cinnamon Sticks
Grind all of the above into a paste
1.5 tbsp of almond and cashew paste
Tumeric, Chilli powder, ground coriander and cumin
Mix all these ingredients and marinate meat (1.5 kg) for 3-4 hours.
Heat some ghee (clarified butter) in a pan, add chopped shallots and garlic. As the shallots turn translucent, add the meat and gently cook on a low heat. Add salt to taste.
When the meat is almost over, in a separate pan, fry soaked basmati rice and potato with cinnamon, onions, ginger paste, turmeric, chilli powder and tomato puree. Once the rice is coloured nicely, layer the rice and potato over the meat and cook until the meat is tender and rice is cooked. Add salt to taste.
Add raita, mint leaves, and caramelised onions.
The “Dhaka Nawabi Biriayni” I made over the summer. It is topped with Raita (a yoghurt dressing).
Common variations to the classic biriyani include Tehari and the Haji Biriyani. While the most biriyani dishes are cooked with ghee, these variations use a cheaper alternative, mustard oil.
In its many shapes and forms, biryani is a delicacy much loved by everyone and is truly a great gift of the trade routes of the past millennium.