Authentic Pakistani Cuisine: Biryani Recipe

I’m not sure if Pakistan has an official national dish, but I’d nominate biryani for that title any day. Biryani is a flavorsome rice dish that comes in many varieties and can be found throughout South Asia. In Pakistan, biryani is usually made with chicken and is very spicy. The word biryani comes from the Persion word berya(n) which means “roasted” or “fried.”

Since biryani is one of my favorite Pakistani dishes, I asked my landlady Nasreen to teach me how to make it. Nasreen is an excellent cook, and she often revels in the kitchen cooking up three course meals for a dozen people with only a few hours’ notice.

The recipe as written would serve 8-10 people. Reduce or delete the starred items for a milder version, as South Asians love spicy food and this recipe is pretty hot.


4 medium onions – sliced thinly
4 tomatoes – skinned and coarsely chopped
10 cloves of fresh garlic – crushed
1 complete chicken – cut into various sized pieces, not more than 3 inches long
fresh ginger – 2 inch cube, crushed and another 2 inch cube sliced for garnish
*3 green chilies – cut in half
½ cup fresh coriander – chopped
1 tbsp salt
*1 tbsp red chili powder (mirch)
1 tbsp haldi
1 tbsp ground coriander (denniya)
2 tbsp garam masala
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cinnamon stick – crushed
1 cup vegetable or olive oil
½ cup water
1 package of biryani masala (store bought)

For rice:

5 cups long grain rice – thoroughly rinsed
1 tbsp yellow food coloring – mixed with water if powder
3-4 cloves
3 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
10 cups water, or whatever is needed to cook your variety of rice


Nasreen prefers to make the chicken mixture first, and then cook the rice. You could also cook the rice simultaneously if you can get the timing right to have the chicken and the rice finished at the same time. It depends how much rice you are cooking and how long that variety of rice takes. It’s very important that the rice is freshly cooked and hot for the last stage of the recipe. This recipe will follow Nasreen’s method since I know it’s successful!

The Salan (Sauce)

1. Put 1 cup of oil in a large pot that you can cover. Add onions and let cook until translucent. Once onions start to turn brown, add ½ cup of water to keep from sticking.
2. Add crushed garlic and mix.
3. Add chicken pieces and mix. Let cook on high heat for 5 minutes.
4. Add tomatoes and ginger and mix.
5. Add the salt, mirch, haldi, ground coriander, garam masala, biryani masala package mix, cinnamon stick, and yogurt. Mix thoroughly and keep at a boil for 5 minutes.
6. Add enough water to cover the chicken and turn down the heat to simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Add fresh chilies and cook for 1 minute.
8. Add garnish ginger slices and remove from flame.

The Rice

1. Rinse rice thoroughly under water. Avoid mixing by hand so that the rice doesn’t break.
2. Put your water in another large pot, and add salt, cloves and oil. Bring to boil.
3. Add rice and cook until almost ready.
4. Drain any excess water and pour rice into a large serving bowl.

The Final Product

1. Using the pot you cooked the rice in, you will now layer the biryani. Put one layer of rice (about 2 inches thick) and then one layer of the biryani salan (sauce).
2. Repeat until all rice and salan is used up.
3. Swirl your yellow food coloring on top of the layers.
4. Do not mix. Cover and let steam for 15 minutes. This is why you need to be sure the rice is not overcooked, as it will steam for 15 minutes to take in the flavor of the sauce.
5. Uncover and mix until color and chicken are distributed evenly.

Serve hot! Biryani goes great with daal (lentils), Indian/Pakistani vegetables dishes, or tasty naan bread. You can also eat it on its own.

12 Comments on “Authentic Pakistani Cuisine: Biryani Recipe

  1. Pingback: Cooking in Lahore: An American Woman In A Pakistani Kitchen

  2. Pingback: Authentic Pakistani Cuisine: Broast Vinegar Chicken Recipe

  3. I had this back in 1994 by some pakistani friends in barbados. it was very delightful and I have tried it. it was a hi, unfortunately as I come in contact many other version I am confused as to which is the best for they all taste great. I will definitely try this version

    • Thanks for reading Radheeka! Yes, biryani in all forms tends to be pretty tasty.

  4. In all honesty, the unofficial national dish of Pakistan is more Nihari than Biryani but it’s pretty close. Real Pakistani food isnt all about chilli and hot flavours, it’s about haunting fragrant aromas and simple combinations. It really depends which part of the country you eat in
    For more authentic and contemporary Pakistani dishes and one’s inspired by the West,dso see my blog at – I am a Pakistani food writer+ cookery teacher in London! (born+brought up in Karachi, Pakistan)

  5. i am sure when you posted this you meant well.
    as a long time fan of Biryani and variations i was interested.
    as a host and chef i decided to try it.
    the first time i made it, it was awful!
    my Pakistani friends would not eat it. they said it was not right.
    and it looked garrish.
    so i thought i made a major error.
    i made it again and it came out-
    took the time and effort, followed the recipe and directions, had all the correct ingredients.
    so i took it to the Halal Pakistani restaurant where i get my fix of biryani and showed it to the owner.
    he just laughed and tore it up shaking his head.
    then he showed me how he does it (he has no written recipe).
    and NO ONE uses yellow food coloring.
    so if you like this then enjoy it.
    i shall waste no more time or food trying to make something tasty from this recipe.

    • LD,

      I’m very sorry this recipe didn’t work out for you. The recipe is from my Pakistani landlady and is typical for Sindhi-style biryani. I have eaten in many times at her place, and it was always delicious; she did use yellow food coloring although I use turmeric powder mixed with water. I’ve also used the recipe a few times myself, and it came out fine. I wrote down the recipe while watching her cook, and she verified it afterward. I’ve just looked back over the recipe and I’m not sure what would have caused your biryani to come out wrong.

      Anyway I am quite sorry this recipe did not turn out as expected. I understand the garish-looking part (due to food coloring), but I am wondering how else it tasted off. Was the rice over or undercooked, did the spices seem wrong?

      Thanks for your feedback.

  6. Heather, I am reading every page of your website and loving it.

    But, “1 complete chicken” will server 10 persons? I am afraid those 10 persons must not be Pakistani :) I think this would suffice 3 (or max 4) Lahori guys :)

    About the recipe, I think coloring is always there (per choice) but it is in minimal quantity.

    Using biryani masala means it was a shortcut. Only new/untrained girls usually use it to avoid using number of masalas (spices) to give taste.

    And yes, Nihari is outclass food but usually servers only early morning as breakfast. Can be found from 6 AM to latest 11 AM at most places.

  7. Hi,
    Just came across your blog while looking for some local information. Read some of your other articles and loved reading about how you have described Pakistan from a foreigners viewpoint, and made it sound so interesting!
    I would agree with the above comments, that Biryani may not be the national dish, however, it does win for being the most popular among adults & children alike with multiple variations being found in every region. We normally use our own spice mix when making it, but add just a tbsp of the packaged masala for that store-bought flavor. I also love Potatoes in my version – it makes it more filling as well.
    Do check out my blog as well –; i post both local as well as international recipes there.

    • Thanks for sharing! I am now craving home-made biryani, haven’t had it in years….

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