I live across the hall from a Pakistani family I’ve grown to know since I moved in the building 3 years ago. I know the wife stays at home because I always see some piece of furniture keeping their main door open whenever I leave or return home. It’s to keep the smell from staying in, she told me, when I peeked inside one time and called her name. I told her that I knew the purpose because I can smell the fragrant spices from the elevators.
When she was done cooking, I heard a knock on my door. It was her with a bowl of homemade chicken biryani for me. Ever since that first time, I’ve also been sharing some of the meals I’ve cooked and the goods I’ve baked with her family. I’d be stupid to break a Pakistani home-cooking connection.
Note that this is not her recipe. I found it online and made my own changes according to what I have in my pantry. I used to make my own ginger-garlic paste and freeze them in sheets, but ever since the Microplane Premium Classic zester came into my life, I just finely grate fresh ginger and garlic now and get the same result I would by using a food processor but without all the parts to wash afterwards. And with the spatula from GIR, or Gear That Gets It Right, I can easily scrape the paste from a bowl and spread it evenly on the chicken pieces.
1 tbsp cumin seeds, grounded
1 tbsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp coriander seeds, grounded
6 cardamom seeds, shelled
1/2 cup tomato purée
a large scoop plain yogurt
a small knob of ginger, peeled, grated
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated
1 red onion, sliced
2 boneless chicken breasts, chopped
2 cups of basmati rice
a pinch of saffron
1/4 cup of milk
a handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
1. On a small frying pan, toast the cumin, turmeric, garam masala, coriander, half of the cardamom seeds and salt until they start to get fragrant. Be careful not to burn. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
2. In a bowl, mix toasted spices with the tomato purée, yogurt, ginger and garlic with a spatula. Marinate the chicken with this mixture and keep aside for a few minutes, or up to 3 hours.
3. When ready to cook, heat oil in a pan. Fry the onions until golden brown. Add the marinated chicken and cook for 10 minutes.
4. In the meantime, set your rice cooker to cook the rice. Soak saffron threads in the milk while cooking the rice. When most of the water from the rice cooker has subsided, pour in the saffron-milk mixture and add the remaining cardamom seeds. Using the same spatula, mix everything when cooking is done.
5. Scoop the cooked rice onto the frying pan with the chicken. Mix well. If your biryani gets dry and thick, add some chicken broth at different intervals of cooking. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.