India is more than familiar with this delectable main course. Here, we look at the history of the dish and various types available across the subcontinent – including the specialty version that Ramadan brings!
Ramadan 2016 is underway. What better time of year to take a look at the numerous varieties of Biryani – the delicious and spicy rice dish, typically mixed in with pieces of meat, that originated among the Persians – that the Indian subcontinent serves up!
A Short History of a Long Journey
First created by the Mughals to mass-serve thousands upon thousands of soldiers in the absence of rotis and parathas which were cumbersome to make, Biryani derives its name from the Farsi word “beryan” which translates into English as ‘fried’ or ‘roasted’.
Legend goes that Shah Jahan’s Queen, Mumtaz Mahal – yes, the self-same lady who inspired the creation of the awe-inspiring structure called Taj Mahal which stands proudly to this day in Agra, India – was instrumental in the invention of this dish in the 17th century. On her visit to the barracks, Mumtaz Mahal noticed that the soldiers were severely undernourished. To remedy the situation, she sent for the chef and asked him to craft a dish from meat and rice which would provide her soldiers with proper nutrition and protein. It was thus that Biryani was born.
Bearing a connection to the royal courts of the Mughals and given the rich array of ingredients required to craft the perfect Biryani meant the dish was served to mark the most special of occasions in the land. Among these is Ramadan.
In the Indian subcontinent – mainly Pakistan and India – the dish developed over centuries of interaction between Muslim invaders and the indigenous population. Today, local variants of the dish are popularly not only here but in South-East Asia, the Middle-East and also among various expatriate Muslim communities in the West.
Here, we bring you the varieties of Biryani popular in India!
Crafting a Biryani: The Basics
Tradition dictates that the rice used for making Biryani be fried first, then boiled. The frying is done clarified butter or ghee and the cooking, in boiling water. The process of frying lends a nutty flavour to the rice and also forms a thin, gelatinous layer of starch over each grain. This in turns avoids clumping of the grains and aids the retention of its shape when mixed with meat.
Blended with the delectable Basmati rice typically used in the preparation along with a choice of meat which may be that of lamb (mutton is the most popular variety of Biryani usually seen), chicken or fish coated in a rich, thick sauce. One can also substitute the meat with vegetables, but if you have a choice, stick to meat – mutton or chicken – any old day! You won’t be disappointed!
Apart from rice and meat, a crucial set of ingredients forms the basis of the Biryani: spices. These include mace, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves etc. While aromatic spices such as those mentioned above add, well, aroma to the dish (!), others such as mint and coriander add a freshness to it that is truly refreshing in combination with the heady spices and rich flavors of clarified butter and meat.
Additionally, another last layer of flavour and texture are added to the dish with the sprinkling of nuts such as almonds or cashews as a final embellishment. Raisins and apricots are also sometimes mixed in with the nuts. Food colouring (yellow or orange) may also be used to dye the rice and thus add more visual appeal.
A Versatile Dish: The Various Types of Biryani Served Up in India
Biryani is a versatile dish which has picked flavours and aromas from the lands it has traveled through down the ages. It continues to do so even today. In fact, in parts of the country such as Hyderabad, every family is said to have a customized recipe that has been handed down through the generations.
A basic variation in cooking style gave birth to two types of Biryani in the land: Pukki Biryani and Kacchi Biryani. While in the former the rice, meat and sauce are cooked separately (and finally layered in the last stage of cooking) so as to retain their individual flavours, in the case of Kacchi Biryani raw meat and rice are cooked together after layering the marinated meat at the bottom of the vessel. In both cases, the meat is layered below the rice and the vessel sealed so as to trap the rising steam. While Pukki Biryani cooks faster in the final stages, Kacchi Biryani takes longer to cook but yields juicier, tastier meat.
There are also types of Biryani that have metamorphosed into their own numerous forms in the various states of India. Lucknowi or Awadhi Biryani is undoubtedly the most authentic and closest to the original Mughal version. It is prepared using the ‘Dum Pukht‘ (‘slow oven’) method and is known popularly as Dum Biryani. It is cooked in a heavy-bottomed, round pot known as handi.
This version is less spicy than the popular version down South – the Hyderabadi Biryani, popularized by the then ruler of Hyderabad – Nizam-ul-Mulk. Almost fifty different versions were created at the time using meats as varied as deer, hare, shrimp, quail and fish. A somewhat more quaint variant is the Calcutta Biryani which uses the humble potato along with the meat.
The Ramadan Biryani
The famed Ramadan Biryani is a specialty version prepared, yes, during the Ramadan month. It is a mutton biryani which combines basmati rice with potatoes and is typically flavoured with the choicest saffron and ghee (clarified butter). The meat to prepare is delicious variant is marinated in a combination of yogurt flavoured with nutmeg and mace. It is a pukki biryani wherein the meat and rice are cooked before layering, followed by cooking for a short five to seven minutes.
Did that inspire you into taking up some cooking this Ramadan season? We sure hope it did! ‘Coz it’s got our mouths watering and our minds wandering away into the land of the Mughals!
Do not forget to get our Biryani custom cuts from our online meat shop.