Biryani is a beautiful South Asian rice pilaf often served at celebrations in India. It's usually made by layering golden-hued rice, tender meat or seafood, and vegetables all in one pot, and baking or steaming until the whole dish is fragrant and infused with flavor. My Indian friends here in the United States talk about this dish with much nostalgia.
Biryani can also be a fantastic one-pot meal to make on busy weeknights. With a few shortcuts, you can have it ready in under an hour. Today, I'm sharing my easy stovetop version of biryani with chicken.
The 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 weeknight 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.
Weeknight Chicken Biryani
- 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 chicken stock or water
- 1/4 cup skinned or unskinned whole almonds, or sliced almonds
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.