Authentic Pakistani Cuisine: Biryani Recipe

by Heather Carreiro on March 1, 2010

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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.

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