Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani by Adam D’Sylva

I grew up in a truly multicultural family. With an Italian mum and an Indian dad, I had the best of both worlds. As a child, I remember watching my mum cook different types of pasta as it was our family’s favourite dish. Weekdays were busy days of the week, so pasta and other Italian dishes were staples. Mum would make batches of passata ready to use, and I remember the entire house smelling of tomatoes and basil.

Weekends were more relaxed. It was time for special meals and like most Indian households, biryani always made its way to the weekend menu. In India, there are more than 25 types of biryanis. Each region and state have made the humble biryani their own by including flavours and spices native to that region. My favourite is the Hyderabadi chicken biryani.

Cooking biryani is a long process as it involves layering all the flavours and cooking them in different stages, but I have a simpler version. This recipe is richer than the biryani I grew up with and has complex layers of spice and flavour. I also use olive oil in my recipe as it provides depth along with the spices. I love this particular recipe because the spiciness comes from the gentle heat of the garam masala, and not the chilli. Serve it with some raita and it’s a perfect Sunday lunch. The best part about this dish is that you can make your own version of biryani just the way you like it. I have always wanted to create food with a focus on the cuisine of my maternal and paternal heritage and what I have done is given it my own twist.

Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani


Serves 4-6

Whole spices

  • 3 star anise
  • 3 cloves
  • 7 green cardamom pods
  • 6 dried Kashmiri chillies
  • 30g coriander seeds
  • 30g cumin seeds
  • 20g black pepper
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 bay leaves

Powdered spices

  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg powder
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 50g Kashmiri chilli powder
  • 5g chilli powder

Chicken marinade

  • 2kg chicken thigh, bone in, skin off
  • 1 bunch of mint
  • 1 bunch of coriander
  • 80g ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 green chilli, chopped
  • 300g yoghurt
  • 50ml lemon juice
  • 2 onions sliced (fried golden brown)
  • 100ml of leftover oil from fried onion
  • Whole blitzed spices and powdered spices

Frying rice

  • 300g of basmati rice
  • 25g butter
  • 50ml milk
  • 0.5g saffron
  • 200g butter
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 star anise
  • Generous pinch salt

Dry roast all the whole spices in a pan over a low heat until fragrant. Blitz and then add powdered spices.

In a large bowl, coat the chicken in the marinade ingredients, stir to ensure all pieces of chicken are coated. Cover and place in the fridge to marinate overnight.

Wash the rice three times and let soak for 10-15 minutes. Strain rice.

Heat 25g of butter, the milk and saffron over a low heat and infuse. Keep aside.

In a pan, heat 200g of butter with the oil. Add bay leaves and star anise and fry for a few minutes or until fragrant.

Fry off the strained rice for 1-2 minutes and then add 5 litres of water with a generous pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, season to taste. Cook until the rice is 50-60 per cent cooked and strain.

Layer biryani in a large pot, with the chicken on the bottom, and rice on top. Pour over saffron-infused milk and butter mixture. Cover with baking paper and lid and cook over a low heat for approximately
2-2½ hours, without removing the cover.

Pour out onto a large serving plate. Top with fresh mint and serve with lemon wedges.

This article first appeared in The Big Issue Ed#647.

Photo supplied by SBS.