Biryani is another Persian dish that each city in India has adapted to its own, with slight variations. In Kolkata, it is the addition of potatoes. The biryani masala can be made in small batches and kept for about a month to maintain the strength and aroma of the spices. Serve with a raita or salad.
For the biryani masala
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
8 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod
1 star anise
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons allspice
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
For the chicken and gravy
rapeseed (canola) oil, for deep-frying
8 onions: 4 thinly sliced; 4 finely chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
5 garlic cloves, finely grated
3.5 cm (11/2 in) fresh ginger, grated
2 teaspoons garam masala
4 tomatoes, blitzed in a food processor
4 bone-in skinless chicken thighs
4 skinless chicken drumsticks
1 teaspoon anardana powder
1 pinch of saffron strands
100 ml (scant 1/2 cup) full-fat milk
2 tablespoons ghee
2 tablespoons torn coriander (cilantro)
For the rice
400 g (2 cups) premium Basmati rice
2 bay leaves
4 star anise
6 green cardamom pods
4 cinnamon sticks
2 whole nutmeg
4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon yellow food colouring
2 drops of attar (scented oil – optional)
Wash the rice and leave to soak in fresh water for 2 hours.
Grind the spices for the biryani masala in a spice grinder. Store in a sealed jar.
Heat enough oil for deep-frying in a large saucepan. Deep-fry the thinly sliced onions until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on kitchen paper. Set aside.
In a large heavy-based pot that has a lid, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over a medium–high heat. Add the chopped onions and fry, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the sugar and continue to cook until browned. Cover and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 3 minutes, then add the garam masala and the blitzed tomatoes, stir through and cook until the oil releases. Score the chicken pieces and add to the pot, then add 11/2 tablespoons of the biryani masala mixture along with the anardana powder and cook for
5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
In a small glass, soak the saffron in the milk. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F/gas 4).
Drain the rice. Bring 2 saucepans of water to the boil, add half of the whole spices to each pan, bring back to the boil and add 2 teaspoons of salt to each. Divide the rice equally between the 2 pans and add the yellow food colouring to one of the pans. Boil for 6 minutes, then drain both separately, reserving the cooking water from the white rice.
Coat the bottom of a large casserole (Dutch oven) with a thin layer of ghee. Add 4 tablespoons of the rice cooking water, a third of the white rice in a thin layer, then a third of the yellow rice, then half of the chicken with the gravy. Next, add another third of the white rice, half of the saffron milk, half of the fried onions and the coriander leaves. Top with another third of the yellow rice, the remaining chicken and gravy and the remaining white rice. Finish with a final layer of the yellow rice, the remaining fried onions, and the remaining saffron milk. Add the attar, if using. Cover the casserole with the lid and tightly seal with foil (or dough to be traditional). Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Break the seal and serve immediately.
Extract from Kolkata by Rinku Dutt, published by Smith Street Books, distributed by Thames & Hudson Australia, AUD$55.00 NZ$60.50, available now.