Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani
Indian Recipe

Rumored to have beginnings in the kitchens of Mughal Emperors, biryani is a rice-based dish made with plenty of spices and a central protein. This meal goes surprisingly quickly in the kitchen and the result is something delicious, fragrant and truly exotic.

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Serves 6 servings
Fried Brown Onions
~ vegetable oil, for frying
3  large onions, halved and thinly sliced, divided
1 cup thick, Greek-style yogurt
2 whole green chilies, halved, seeded and chopped
2 whole black cardamom pods, slightly crushed
1 1-inch cinnamon stick
2 Turkish bay leaves*
8–10 whole black peppercorns
2  teaspoons black cumin seeds**
2  whole mace arils***
1  tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
2  teaspoons crushed garlic
1/2 cup fried brown onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
4 tablespoons melted ghee****
4 1/2–5 pounds skinless chicken, bone-in legs, thighs and breast, halved
Saffron Milk
1/2  teaspoon  saffron*
1/2  cup  warm milk
Basmati Rice
2 cups basmati rice
8 cups boiling water
2 whole black cardamoms
3 whole green cardamoms
2 whole mace arils
1 1-inch cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
1 Turkish bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon black cumin
1 piece cheesecloth, for tying spices like a bouquet garni
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ghee
Biryani Seasonings
~ remaining fried onions, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves, plus additional for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 cup ghee, melted
~ lime wedges, for garnish

Recipe Notes:


NOTE: All of the Indian spices and ghee are easily found online or in Indian grocery stores.
*Turkish bay leaves are smaller and milder than the California Bay Laurel leaves sold in supermarkets.
**Black cumin seeds lend a smoky, earthy goodness to the biryani. Substitute regular cumin seeds if black are unavailable.
***Mace arils are the fragrant outer covering of the nutmeg fruit harvested from the Myristica fragrans tree. Western cooks are more familiar with mace in its ground form.
****Ghee is clarified butter made from cow’s milk that is boiled to remove the moisture and milk solids. Its rich, nutty flavor is a staple in Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. Ghee does not require refrigeration and has a long shelf-life.

Saffron Milk
*Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world—if the price seems too cheap, it would very well be fake. Grown mainly in Kashmir, India, Spain and Iran, its thin, red threads are the hand-picked stamens of the crocus flower. (One pound of saffron requires up to 75,000 flowers with 3 stigmas each.) It’s affordable when purchased in small amounts, so make sure you know and trust your vendor, and don’t forget to sniff the saffron before purchasing. It should have a beautiful, pungent scent that often permeates its tiny plastic box.


Fried Brown Onions
Line a baking sheet with paper towels for step 3.

  1. Pour 1 inch of oil in a deep pot, turn the heat to high and bring to 350°F.
  2. Working in batches, fry the onions until they turn a rich brown color. Adjust the heat to maintain temperature and prevent burning.
  3. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and shake off excess oil. Place on the baking sheet and blot excess grease with a paper towel. Set aside. 


  1. Combine all marinade ingredients (except chicken) in a medium bowl and mix well.
  2. Using a sharp knife, make several deep slashes in each piece of chicken.
  3. Add the chicken to the marinade and massage deeply into the meat.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2–24 hours.
  5. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the saffron milk and begin rice. 

Saffron Milk

  1. Place saffron strands in the warm milk and soak for 30 minutes.

Basmati Rice 

  1. Place the basmati rice in a large mesh strainer and run cool water over it until excess starch is removed and the water runs clear.
  2. Place the rice in a spacious bowl and cover with cool water. Let soak for 30 minutes. Drain.

NOTE: Do not skip this step or your rice will not cook properly.

  1. Place black and green cardamom pods, mace, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf and black cumin seeds on an ample piece of cheesecloth. Tie securely as you would a bouquet garni.

NOTE: If cheesecloth is unavailable, add the spices directly to the water. Be sure to remove all large spices before serving.

  1. With water boiling, add the spices, salt and ghee.
  2. Add the basmati rice and maintain a lively boil.
  3. Cook until half done.

NOTE: The rice will roll rapidly as it reaches this point. Test for readiness by removing a few grains with a spoon. If you can crush them with your fingers, they are cooked enough. Do not cook the rice past this point or it will get soft and gushy when cooked again later.

  1. Drain the rice and place in a heat-resistant bowl. Set aside.

Assembling and Cooking the Biryani

NOTE: It is critical that you prepare the biryani in an airtight pot so that the meat roasts and the rice steams. If necessary, place a clean, damp kitchen cloth or piece of aluminum foil over the pot before adding the lid. I use a Le Creuset Dutch oven and place a piece of foil over the top of the pot before covering with the lid. To be really safe, I make a long aluminum foil roll and run it around the edge of the lid in order to trap the steam.

  1. Arrange the chicken in a single even layer in the pot.
  2. Evenly spoon half of the rice over the chicken.
  3. Sprinkle half of the remaining onions as well as the mint and cilantro leaves, coriander powder and garam masala over the rice.
  4. Spread the remaining rice evenly over the top.
  5. Sprinkle with remaining fried onions.
  6. Pour the prepared saffron milk evenly over the rice and drizzle the melted ghee on top of that.
  7. Place airtight lid on top of the pot and cook on high heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook for another 25 minutes. Finally, bring heat to low and cook for 10 minutes.
  8. Gently remove the lid and slice chicken to make sure that it is no longer pink.
  9. Spoon the biryani onto a platter and decorate with mint leaves and lime slices.