“Such a gorgeous and fragrant recipe, Sue! This is exactly the kind of meal I’ve been craving for dinner!” ~Laura
Biryani is my standing order whenever I dine in or take out from an Indian restaurant ~ it’s carby and comforting with lots of interesting favors and textures. There are more versions of biryani than you could possibly imagine, and believe it or not, this one is on the simpler side. A hint of lemon makes it special.
did you know?
Biryani is an aromatic rice dish that was originally Persian, and then adopted by India. It combines fragrant long-grain basmati rice with a variety of proteins like chicken, fish, or vegetables. The rice is layered with a blend of spices, herbs, and often a yogurt or tomato-based sauce. The dish is cooked using the “dum” method, where the pot is tightly sealed to trap the steam and allow the flavors to infuse into the rice.
It’s the spices that set chicken biryani apart from a regular Western chicken and rice casserole. This recipe features
- coriander (in leaf and seed pod form)
- both black and green cardamom
- fresh ginger and garlic.
You’ll toast the spices in a dry pan for a minute or so to bring out their flavors before grinding them up with the ginger and garlic to form a paste. A mini food processor works perfectly for this, although if you’re more low-tech, you can use a mortar and pestle.
All these spices for this Lemon Chicken Biryani are readily available in your grocery store with the possible exception of the cardamom pods. These are well worth tracking down, the flavor is incomparable. If you don’t have a local specialty or gourmet store, try buying them online.
chicken biryani layering technique
One of the defining characteristics of a biryani is the layering of the ingredients. The browned chicken is layered into the onions and par-cooked rice so that the juices permeate everything as it bakes.
- By layering partially cooked rice and the chicken, the flavors are distributed evenly throughout the dish. As the biryani cooks, the steam generated from the sealed pot helps the flavors meld together.
- The layering technique helps retain moisture within the biryani. The partially cooked rice absorbs the flavors and juices from the chicken while cooking, keeping the dish moist and preventing the rice from becoming dry.
- Layering the rice carefully allows each grain to retain its shape and separate from one another. This results in fluffy, non-sticky rice grains that are a desirable characteristic of a well-cooked biryani.
TIP: A wide shallow cast iron casserole with a lid is perfect for this dish. These can range from very pricey, to less pricey to very reasonable.
Basmati is a long grain rice from India that you’ll find right in the rice section of your supermarket. I love it because it has a beautiful aroma and flavor, and always cooks up fluffy and separate, not sticky. I’ve used it before in my Basmati and Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants and Herbs, and in Mejadra, a comforting Middle Eastern dish made with basmati, lentils and spices. It also stars in one of my favorite dishes, Persian Jeweled Rice.
TIP: Many stores carry imported basmati rice from India, and I highly recommend giving it a try. The fragrance and flavor is far better and more pronounced than you’ll get with American varieties.
Lemon Chicken Biryani
- large braising pan with lid
- 1 3/4 cups basmati rice
- 27 ounces just under 3 1/2 cups, chicken stock, divided
- 2 Tbsp olive oil or ghee, clarified butter
- 8 chicken thighs, or a combination of legs and thighs
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 10 black peppercorns
- 2 black cardamom pods, seeds removed, husks discarded
- 15 green cardamom pods, seeds removed, husks discarded
- 1 thumb-sized knob fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/2 cup whole cashews, raw preferred
- approximately 1/4 cup, 50g ground almonds
- 8 Tbsp Greek yogurt, whole milk
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/3 cup currants
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1/3 cup slivered almonds
- fresh coriander leaves
- pomegranate seeds
- lemon wedges
- Set the oven to 350F
- Put the rice and 1 3/4 cups of the stock (400ml) in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, turn down the heat and cook for 8 minutes, then take off the heat and set aside.
- Coat the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil or ghee and heat on medium high until hot. Season both sides of the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, and then brown, in batches, for 5 minutes on each side. Set the chicken aside on a plate and cover with foil.
- Add the onions and shallots to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and saute for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until softened.
- In another dry skillet toast the spices over medium heat for a couple of minutes, keeping them moving the whole time. Take off the stove and grind them in a small food processor. Add the ginger and garlic and process together into a rough paste.
- Add the paste to the pan with the onions, along with the cashews and saute for 3-4 minutes, stirring almost constantly so the garlic doesn’t brown.
- Stir in the almond meal, yogurt, turmeric, currants, lemon juice and zest, along with the rice, and combine everything well. Add salt and pepper if necessary.
- Now you will layer the rice and chicken in a large casserole dish. Start with 1/2 of the rice, and nestle down 1/2 of the chicken. Add the rest of the rice and chicken, and arrange evenly.
- Add the rest of the hot stock (make sure it is hot) and pour over the casserole. Cover tightly.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. This will depend on the size of your chicken pieces. If you have a thermometer it should read 160-165F.
- Fluff the rice a bit, rearrange the chicken, and garnish with the almonds, coriander leaves, and pomegranate seeds. I like to serve with a few lemon wedges on the side, too.