Chicken Biryani

Photography Credit: Sheryl Julian

Biryani is a beautiful, simple South Asian rice pilaf that’s easy to make at home. It’s typically served at celebrations in India, and my Indian friends here in the United States talk about this dish with such nostalgia.

You can make it with all kinds of meats (like goat or seafood!) or just vegetables. The rice is often golden with turmeric and studded with raisins and nuts.

Biryani can also be a fantastic weeknight meal since it’s made all in one pot and is ready in under an hour. Today, I’m sharing my version of biryani with chicken.

Chicken BiryaniThe ratio of rice to meat in biryani might surprise you. This isn’t a dish of meat served with rice on the side. It’s a dish of rice flavored with meat. Think of the chicken as a seasoning for the rice.

I use bone-in chicken thighs, which turn out juicy no matter how long they cook. To prepare them for cooking, cut each thigh in half along the bone — this will give you some pieces of meat with the bone still in and some that are boneless. This way, the bones add richness to the pot and the meat still cooks through in the time it takes for the rice to absorb its water. And you get bones for the people who love them!

You can use boneless thighs instead (cut them in half and cook them the same way), but you won’t get the richness from the bones in the broth.

I like golden rice, so I make the dish with turmeric, cardamom, ginger, and a cinnamon stick. Golden raisins go in along with the rice and then chopped almonds and fresh cilantro are sprinkled on top at the end.

My version has spices, but not heat. If you want some heat, add a generous pinch of crushed red pepper to the onion while it softens.

This is the ideal dish to make if you’ve decided to eat less meat. You get lots of interesting tastes and texture in the pilaf, and just enough protein to feel satisfied.

Chicken Biryani Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings

Boneless thighs can be substituted for the bone-in thighs if you prefer, though you'll lose the richness the bones give the dish. Prep and cook boneless thighs the same way.


  • 1 1/2 cups (150g) long-grain white rice, like basmati
  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 piece (2 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, plus more to taste
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup skinned or unskinned whole almonds, or sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro


1 Rinse the rice: In a bowl of water, swirl the rice with your hands several times. Tip the rice into a fine-mesh strainer. Refill the bowl with water, then add the rice back in and swirl again -- the water should be clear now. If so, tip the rice back into the strainer and leave to drain until needed. If the water was not clear, repeat rinsing with fresh water until the water is clear.

Chicken Biryani

2 Prepare the chicken: Cut each thigh in half along the bone; the pieces will be uneven in size with the bone in one half. Sprinkle the chicken all over with salt and pepper.

Chicken Biryani

3 Sear the chicken: In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat, heat the oil. When it is hot, add the chicken, skin side down. Cook for 5 minutes without disturbing. Turn the chicken and cook the other side for 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Discard all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pan.

4 Cook the onion and spices: Add the onion and ginger to the pot and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes, or until they soften. Add the turmeric and cardamom. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.

5 Add the rice and seared chicken: Add the rice to the pan and stir it into the onion and spices.

Return the seared chicken to the pan, along with any juices that have accumulated in the bowl. Turn the chicken in the spices so the pieces are coated all over.

Add the cinnamon, bay leaf, raisins, and water.

Chicken Biryani

6 Cook the biryani: Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and cover the pan. Simmer for 18 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the chicken is cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat; set aside for 5 minutes.

Chicken Biryani

7 Toast the almonds: In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds, shaking the pan often, for 5 minutes or until they are aromatic. Chop coarsely.

8 Serve the biryani: Remove the bay leaf and cinnamon stick from the rice. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, or cardamom to suit your taste. Sprinkle the dish with almonds and cilantro.

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Sheryl Julian

Sheryl Julian is an award-winning writer, editor, and food stylist. She is the former food editor of The Boston Globe, co-author of The Way We Cook, and editor of The New Boston Globe Cookbook. Her food sections won Best Newspaper Food Coverage from the Association of Food Journalists in 2015.

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Chicken Biryani

Showing 4 of 20 Comments

  • Ellie Jones

    I made the recipe and loved it though next time will add the red chili peppers as prefer more heat.

  • Kelly hameed

    This is NOT biriyani….nor a version of biriyani, I would call it a chicken pilau/pilaf, but a biriyani is much more complex than the above

  • shernaz

    Instead of using turneric, you are supposed to use saffron for the colour and ginger garlic paste is a must for flavour as well as cinnamon, elachi and red chilli garlic paste, also while preparing layers for biryani use Ghee instead of oil. It will taste better. Hope this suggestion helps you make the Biryani taste good.

  • Dave R.

    I was disappointed with this recipe. Perhaps it was my own fault. Mine turned out so bland, I couldn’t finish eating my first serving. I left out the ginger and raisins b/c I don’t really like either. Would that affect the flavor (or lack thereof) that significantly? I really wanted to like this dish because it LOOKS delicious. In contrast to some of the other comments by other cooks here, I really like the cardamom and didn’t feel that it overpowered the dish at all.

  • Libby

    Has anyone tried this with quinoa instead of rice? Any modifications?

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