Hyderabad, the city of Nizams, is well-known for its food culture in India. Its non-vegetarian curries and biryanis have won many hearts over the centuries.
However, when certain type of cuisine gets popular, it tends to lose its original flavor and authentic taste. This is what I have observed over the last few years, and I’m sure you would agree with me on the same.
Hyderabadi chicken biryani is no exception. Most of the modern day restaurants have transformed this traditional dish as per their convenience. And unfortunately, the biryani that gets served today is just an Indian version of Fried Rice.
So, how can you taste the authentic biryani?
Well, there are two things you can do –
- Try it yourself at home.
- Befriend the chefs of Nawab.
I know the first option is going to be an obvious choice!
Therefore, I wanted to share some information regarding the preparation and cooking style of Hyderabadi biryani.
Interesting facts about biryani –
There was no such thing called ‘Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani’ in the past. The royal chefs, who invented this delicacy, used to prefer goat/sheep meat in their recipes, as it was relatively easy for them to travel across different regions with these animals.
It is also said that this dish was not just limited to the royal families. It was a staple food for troops during the Mughal era.
There was no better way to feed thousands of hungry soldiers than making simple and delicious biryani on regular basis. It contains good amount of proteins and fats, which are beneficial for those who deal with intense work. So, it was indeed a great solution for those people.
Since our lifestyle has drastically changed in recent decades, the chicken meat is now being consumed more as compared to other meats. It gets digested easily in the stomach. Thus, many of our traditional mutton pulaos, biryanis and curries have been replaced with chicken and/or egg.
This chicken biryani is just another innovative-twist-recipe in the ongoing transition phase of Indian cooking.
Even though the demand for healthier meat has risen, its core recipe hasn’t changed at all. You will have to follow the same secrets to make this dish at home.
Secrets of Hyderabadi chicken biryani
Let’s learn about the secrets of our traditional non-vegetarian rice delicacy –
1. Papaya – The Meat Tenderizer
Raw Papaya should be used to tenderize the chicken. You can add a couple of tablespoons of raw papaya paste (for 2 kgs of meat) during the marination process, and it will make your chicken very smooth and succulent.
The papaya paste don’t have strong taste of its own. So, it won’t have any effect on the overall taste of your biryani. It’s perfectly fine to add it in the marinade.
2. Dry Spices & Masalas
For the amazing aroma and flavor, you will need to add certain spices and masalas in this biryani.
Prepare the powdered masala using the green and black cardamoms, cinnamon sticks, black pepper seeds and cloves. You may also use the whole spices, though freshly blended masala brings more flavor to the biryani.
Apart from these dry spices, the turmeric powder and red chilli powder are must for this recipe. All these masalas do help in killing the harmful bacteria that may be present in the meat.
Trivia – Many of our commonly available spices were very expensive commodities during the Mughal & Portuguese era. Hence, they were not accessible to everyone.
This biryani is an excellent example of the limited usage of spices.
3. Desi Ghee
When it comes to Hyderabadi biryani, there can’t be any alternative to ghee/clarified butter.
Just like the spices, people had no access to refined oils or extra virgin olive oils. They simply used what they had in abundance at that time i.e. pure desi ghee.
There is a scientific advantage of using ghee over oil. It tones down the excess spiciness of masala to considerable level, and keeps your stomach safe.
Apart from this, it offers richness to the delicacy. Thus, it is recommended to use ghee in the biryani.
4. Chicken Quality
The chicken meat that you’re going to cook for this recipe should be clean and fresh. Do not use stale or leftover chicken pieces from the refrigerator.
Also, the biryani gets more flavorful, when you add chicken with bones. The bone pieces will secrete really nice juices in the base gravy while cooking on dum.
If you prefer larger pieces, make sure to slit them till you reach the hard surface of bone. It will help meat absorb the masala flavors from the marination.
5. Marination Technique
The meat marination is an integral part of all biryani dishes in the world. Here’s how it should be done –
- In a mixing bowl, add the chicken pieces, ghee, papaya paste, yogurt, crisp fried onions, dry spices, chopped green chillies, ginger-garlic paste, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, chopped coriander leaves and mint leaves, lemon juice and salt.
- Mix these ingredients together and make sure that masala is coated well to the pieces.
- Let the chicken rest for at least 3-4 hours.
Trivia – The ancient chefs used to follow the similar process for marination. They’d marinate the meat just before heading to the battlefield and would return to their tents at the time of sunset in order to cook their favorite non-veg delicacies.
6. No Vegetables Except Fried Onions
Yes, some restaurant chefs do make ‘Hyderabadi’ chicken biryani with red-yellow-green capsicums in it. I have tried this type of dish in a local restaurant, and I have to say it didn’t even taste like regular biryani.
For Hyderabadi biryani, you should refrain from using vegetables like tomatoes, capsicums and green onions. These veggies will completely change the taste of your authentic delicacy.
Having said that, do not shy away from adding fried onions in it. These crisp onions bring silky texture and mildly sweet taste to the dish.
You just can’t compromise on the quality of rice. It is one of the important ingredients of this recipe, and that’s why you should use good quality of Basmati rice.
When the rice is cooked properly, it should rise as much as double in size. It should also smell very pleasant. If it doesn’t show any of these results, you don’t have the best rice!
Do not cook the rice completely. When it’s 3/4th done, spread it over the marinated chicken pieces and keep it on very low flame. It helps rice absorb all the flavors.
Saffron/Kesar is considered one of the most expensive spices in the world, as it is prepared with the stigmas of flowers.
You should never use artificial food colors for biryani or any other recipes. Some of these colors are so harmful that they can cause diseases like food allergies, ADHD and cancer.
On the other hand, Saffron strands are good natural coloring agents for the cooked rice. So, let’s see how you can use this spice –
- Mix the saffron strands with warm milk.
- When the rice is spread on top of the chicken gravy, sprinkle this saffron milk on it.
- Then, garnish the rice with fried onions, coriander and mint leaves. Put it on dum for half an hour or so.
That’s it! When cooked, you will get wonderful yellowish-orange color to your rice.
9. Cooking Vessel
In previous days, the chefs used to have large Copper vessels to make their biryani dishes. Some 5-star restaurant chefs still use these vessels to cook for large no. of people.
But now, we can’t have these super-large tools in our small kitchens. However, there is a solution to this problem. Some vendors do sell mini-versions of the biryani vessels in local markets of Delhi & Lucknow.
If you can’t find the Copper vessel, don’t worry. It’s not possible for everyone to find these age-old utensils. You can cook it in regular metal cookware as well.
10. Dum Cooking
Dum cooking was supposedly invented to cook the food on low flame for long hours. And, this method needs two important things – wheat flour dough and charcoal.
Here’s how to prepare the dum –
- Seal the biryani vessel using dough and place a heavy utensil or brick on the lid.
- Let it cook on the burning charcoal fire for 5-6 minutes. Then, lower the flame to cook it until the chicken is cooked.
Trivia: In Rajasthan, you will find a traditional chicken cuisine named Khad Murg, which is also prepared with pretty similar technique. The local people dig a medium-sized hole in the soil (known as khad in regional language) and place the marinated chicken by wrapping it in the chapatis/rotis and empty wheat grain bags.
Then, they sprinkle water to damp the sealed pack and add the burning charcoal pieces & sand on it to cover the hole completely. This way, the chicken cooks on really low heat and gets very rustic smokey flavor in the end.
This, of course, is a forgotten technique of cooking meat. Most of the restaurants, now, serve baked chicken or tandoori chicken in the name of Khad Murg.
Coming back to dum cooking, it is a bit long process for regular cooking. But, when you will taste this kind of dum biryani, you’d definitely want to thank the person who’s invented this genius method of cooking. It’s worth trying for once at least!
Biryani making is an art! It has its unique method that you need to follow each time. Otherwise, you would end up making something like masala rice or mixed rice.
The aroma, flavors and taste are three major aspects of Hyderabadi biryani. If you miss any of them, your biryani will fail. Now, when you think of making this recipe, do try to apply the secrets mentioned above. I’m sure it will turn out great.
If you still have any doubts or questions regarding it, please comment below. I’d love to resolve them for you.