Taste of Eastern India by Kankana Saxena, food blogger and photographer.

Biryani is a labor of love. It needs time and attention, which is why I consider it a weekend meal. When you finally open the tight lid and the aroma releases, you will find it worth all the effort.

There are numerous versions of chicken biryani found in Indian cuisine. Kolkata chicken biryani is probably the only one that has big chunks of potatoes in it. Clearly, this shows the Bengalis’ love for potatoes. The story goes that several years back, when biryani was prepared for the king and his friends, the cook ran short of chicken and he added potatoes to increase the volume. Although the chef was worried, it turns out that everybody really liked the extra carb and the new twist. Since then, adding potatoes in biryani became a norm in Kolkata. Whether the story is true or not, meat and potato is always a great combination.

Key Notes: I prefer to prepare biryani with bone-in chicken pieces, because it keeps the meat moist without the risk of overcooking and drying out the chicken. However, you can always go for boneless too. If you choose boneless, then you have to be careful of the cooking time, as it will cook much faster than the time I call for in the recipe directions.

Serves 4

1 tbsp (10 g) cumin seeds

1 tbsp (10 g) coriander seeds

½ tsp black peppercorns

2 cinnamon sticks, divided

5 green cardamom pods, divided

3 bay leaves, divided

1 mace

1 lb (500 g) chicken pieces

1 tbsp (10 g) grated garlic

1 tbsp (8 g) grated ginger

⅓ cup (82 g) thick yogurt

1 tbsp (15 g) salt, divided

⅓ cup (79 ml) milk

½ tsp saffron threads

1 cup (211 g) long-grain basmati rice

2 red onions

Oil, for deep-frying

2 tbsp (30 ml) vegetable oil

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters

2 tbsp (29 g) ghee, divided

4 cloves

1 star anise

1½ cups (355 ml) water

1 tbsp (15 ml) rosewater (optional)

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced 

Place a pan over medium heat and add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black pepper, 1 of the cinnamon sticks, 3 of the green cardamom pods, 2 of the bay leaves and the mace. Dry roast for a few seconds, and then let the spices cool for a while before grinding to a fine powder.

Place the chicken pieces in a bowl and add half of the ground spice mix, then add the garlic, ginger, yogurt and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Mix everything together and let the chicken marinate for at least 4 hours. Keeping it overnight will enhance the flavor even more.

Pour the milk into a bowl and crush the saffron threads into it. Stir and let the milk infuse for 5 minutes.

Wash the rice several times under running water. This will remove the excess starch. Then leave the washed rice in the colander for about 15 minutes for any excess water to drain out.

Peel the onions and thinly slice them. Half of the sliced onions will be deep-fried and the other half will be used in cooking the chicken.

Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and pour in enough oil to reach a depth of

2 inches (5 cm). Place a kitchen towel on a plate and keep it ready for the fried onions. Once the oil reaches between 325°F and 350°F (163°C and 177°C), add the sliced onion carefully and stir every now and then so the onion gets golden brown evenly. Once the onions turn light golden brown, remove from the hot oil and place on the kitchen towel.

To prepare the chicken, place another heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat and add in the

vegetable oil. When the oil heats up, add the quartered potatoes and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt. Fry for 5 minutes, tossing and turning. Transfer the potatoes to a separate bowl.

To the same pan, add the remaining sliced onion, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and cook the onion for about 4 minutes, or until softened. Then add the marinated chicken and cook for 10 minutes, tossing and turning every now and then. Turn off the heat once the chicken is partially cooked.

Place another heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the ghee. Once it heats up, add the remaining 1 cinnamon stick, remaining 1 bay leaf, remaining 2 cardamom pods, cloves and star anise. Allow the spices to sizzle for a while and then add the washed rice. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and stir the rice. Let the rice roast for a couple of minutes, then pour in the water. Let the rice cook for 15 minutes or until it’s half cooked.

Now finally, to prepare the biryani, preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease a large ceramic ovenproof bowl with some ghee. Layer half of the partially cooked chicken, and top it with half of the partially cooked rice. Arrange half of the fried potatoes by pushing them down a little. Add half of the fried onions evenly on top and add ½ tablespoon (7 g) of the ghee, half of the rosewater and half of the saffron milk. Repeat with the remaining chicken, rice, potato, fried onion, ghee, rosewater and saffron milk.

Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes or until the rice and chicken are cooked through. Just before serving, top it with the sliced egg and enjoy while it is still warm.

Reprinted with permission from Taste of Eastern India by Kankana Saxena, Page Street Publishing Co. 2018. Photo credit: Kankana Saxena.

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