Thursday, September 1, 2005

Mughlai Lamb Biryani

Lamb Biryani
From Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery

Be warned - from start to finish, this dish takes about 6 hours.
Serves 6-8

Prep time: 30 minutes at least
Soak time: 3 hours
cook time: 2 hours

15 oz/425 ml basmati rice
6 litres / 6 quarts water (at least – check out the amounts in the directions)
3 tbsp salt (sounds like a lot, but it’s the total amount used at different points in the cooking)
1 tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp warm milk
3 medium onions, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1” fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
13 tbsp vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil)
3 tbsp Sultana raisins
4 tbsp sliced almonds
2 lb/1 kg lamb (I used leg, she recommends shoulder) cut into 1” cubes. I bought a leg, had the butcher debone it for me and now have the bones in the freezer waiting for cool weather and my lentil soup! It will be a great base.)
8 oz/ 250 ml plain yoghurt
5-6 whole cloves
½ tsp black peppercorns
½ tsp cardamom seeds (not the whole pod!- I think I opened about 10 pods)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1” cinnamon stick
1/6 nutmeg, grated (probably about ¼ tsp)
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 oz/ 25 g unsalted butter (I used ghee – Indian clarified butter) cut into 8 pieces
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and at room temperature at serving time.


1. Wash the rice in several changes of water (it will ultimately be clear). Drain and put into a large bowl. Add about 2 litres or 2 quarts of water. (There should be at least 2 inches of water covering the rice. Exact measurements aren’t necessary – my note). Add 1 tbsp salt to the water. Mix and let soak for 3 hours.

2. As soon as the rice begins to soak, put the saffron threads in a small, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Toss the threads until they turn a few shades darker (just a minute or two). Warm milk in a cup (I just stuck it in the microwave for a few seconds), crumble the saffron threads into the milk, stir and let soak for 3 hours as well.

Once the rice and saffron are soaking, prepare the garnish (that’s the fried onions, raisins and almonds) and seasoning paste…. about 10-15 minutes

3. Cut 2 of the onions in half lengthwise and cut the halves into fine half rings. Set aside. Chop the remaining onion coarsely. Put chopped onion, garlic, ginger, 2 tbsp of sliced almonds and 3 tbsp water into a blender or food processor and blend until you have a very smooth paste. Set aside. (5 minutes)

4. Put 6 tbsp of oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion half rings. Stir and fry until they are crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread them on paper towels. Add the raisins to the same oil and remove them when they plump up – almost immediately. Remove them with the slotted spoon and spread them out on a separate paper towel. Do the same with the remaining almond slices and stir until golden – also very quick!. Remove with slotted spoon and add to raisins. Set the onions, raisins and almonds aside for garnish. (about 10 minutes)

5. Searing the lamb: Using the same oil, brown the meat on all sides. Do not overfill the skillet or the meat will just “stew” – turn grey and all the lovely juices will seep out. Take your time with this step – it’s well worth it (my note). Once each batch is done, remove the seared meat with a slotted spoon to a bowl. (about 20 minutes)

6. Once all the lamb is seared, add the remaining oil to the pan and turn the heat to medium. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, almond paste and sauté until golden, stirring all the time. If it sticks to the bottom of the pan, add a touch more water. You don’t want soup, you just want to keep it from sticking (my note, again). (3-4 minutes)

7. Return the meat and juices to the pan. Add the yoghurt 1 tbsp at a time until it’s all incorporated. Add 1 tsp salt, 5 oz/ 150 ml water, mix and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

8. While the meat is cooking, put the clovers, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon and grated nutmeg into a spice grinder and grind finely. You can use a clean coffee grinder or small electric food processor. A mortar and pestle will do, but will take forever, so be forewarned!

9. Once the meat has cooked for 30 minutes, add the spices and cayenne pepper and mix well. Cover and continue to cook over low heat for another 30 minutes. Remove the cover and raise the heat to medium. Cook, stirring until the sauce thickens. It should be reduced to about 1 cup. Turn off the heat and remove any excess grease. (My meat was very lean to begin with, so I didn’t really have much to remove).

10. Spread the meat and sauce in the bottom of a heavy casserole. Cover and keep warm.

11. Preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C.

12. On top of the stove, bring 6 pints/3.6 litres of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add 1 tbsp salt. Drain the rice that’s been soaking for 3 hours and rinse under cold running water. Slowly scatter the rice over the boiling water. Once all the rice has been added, bring the water back to a boil and cook for exactly 6 minutes. Drain the rice.

13. Work fast now (Madhur’s note!) Put the rice on top of the meat, piling it high in the center, creating a hill. Take a chop stick or the handle of a long spoon and make a 1” wide hole in the center of the peak, like a well, right down to the bottom of the pan. Drizzle the saffron milk in streaks along the sides of the hill. Lay the pats of butter on the sides as well and scatter 2 tbsp of the browned onions over it all.

14. Cover with heavy duty aluminum foil, sealing the edges well. Bake in the oven for 1 hour.

15. Just before you are ready to serve, quarter the hard boiled eggs, length-wise. Mix the contents of the rice pan gently to combine the lamb and rice (I forgot to do this, but it was still lovely and in fact, finding the lamb underneath was a surprise to my guests). Serve the rice mixture on a platter (I just used the lasagna dish I baked it in) garnished with eggs, remaining brown onions, raisins and almonds.

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Anonymous said...

My mother-in-law shared this recipe with me from her cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey's Illustrated Indian Cookery, and it's one of the best meals I've ever had. Thanks for writing it out. I had to scan the recipe from her cookbook because I couldn't buy it.

Abhijit said...

Really the dish is mouthwatering. My mom used to prepare it without fail on my each is my alltime favourite. One cannot just explain the taste through words....everyone must taste and experience...

Unknown said...

I'm so glad to have found this post of yours. I have been looking for a Lamb Biryani recipe for a long time, and this one looks like the best one by far. I have been hungry for this since I came back from my visit to India, years ago.

Ruth Daniels said...

Dawn, I really hope it meets your expectations. I love everything that Madhur Jaffrey makes. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. Please let me know how you liked it.