Chicken Pilau Biryani

Everyone has a dish that is their knock out dish, and Pilau Biryani is mine.  I’ve made it for graduations, parties and most recently for a wedding.  (5 catering trays worth!)  It’s a fairly simple dish, but so ridiculously tasty.  I use a spice mix called Shan Pilau Biryani mix, which is available online or in Indian grocery stores.

This makes a really nice big batch, but leftovers never last at our house.  I do make the recipe a little differently than on the box, but it’s still pretty close.  If you decide to make a half box/batch, try to make sure you get roughly half of the big spices as well. It is also traditional to leave big spices like cardamom, cloves, black peppers , pieces of cinnamon etc. in the dish that you simply pick out while you are eating.

There are basically three layers in this dish:  a chicken and gravy layer, a rice layer and and onion layer that all get gently tossed togther just before serving.  I often start the onion layer first, since it takes quite a while to get the rich, brown color and sweetness.

Ingredients

1 box Shan Pilau Biryani Mix
2 lbs. of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb. of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 Tbsp crushed Garlic
1 1/2  Tbsp crushed fresh Ginger
2 cups water
1/2 cup plain yogurt, stirred well plus more for serving
3 1/2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained
5 1/2 cups of water
1 Tbsp kosher salt
3-4 large onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil

To make the chicken base:  In  large pot, mix the chicken, spice mix, garlic, ginger and 2 cups water.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer until chicken is cooked and soft.  (Probably about an hour.) The chicken may release some liquid, and you want to end up with about 2 cups of  gravy (in addition to the chicken of course).  So if you end up with much more, cook it uncovered a little longer.  If you have less, add a little more water.

Remove from heat and pour the yogurt over it evenly.

To make the rice layer: Bring 5 1/2 cups water to a boil and add the rice and 1 Tbsp salt.  Stir, cover and reduce heat.  Cook until just about done,  roughly 15 minutes.  Layer it evenly over the chicken and gravy. The rice will finish cooking and absorbing moisture in the oven.

If you get a red powder packet in the biryani mix, sprinkle it on top of the rice for nice bits of yellow color. Sometimes it’s not in the box – which is a bummer, but not a fatal flaw.

To make the fried onions: Fry the thinly sliced onions in olive oil, stirring frequently until they are dark golden brown and caramelized. This does take quite a while. Keep the onions and the oil they were fried in.

Alternatively, you can bake the onions. Mix the oil and onions on a large baking sheet and bake them at  350 degrees for an hour or so. The onions will turn pinkish first, for some weird reason, but just give them a stir from time to time and let them continue cooking until they are a warm golden brown color.  For my nephew’s wedding, I baked two big bags of onions from Costco.  I think you could smell onions frying from two blocks away! 

Ladle the fried onions and the oil on top of the rice, and cover with foil.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and gently mix up the chicken and rice portion with a big spoon or saucer, and serve on a big platter. Serve with plain yogurt or a simple raita (spiced yogurt and vegetables.)

For a vegan version, substitute 3 cans of rinsed garbanzo beans, one cup of shelled pistachios, and 1 cup of frozen peas for the meat, adding the peas on top at the end and recovering the dish with foil a few minutes before you mix the biryani.

To make ahead and freeze:  Make the chicken and gravy mixture and pour into a freezer-safe baking dish.  Make onions and freeze them and the oil you fried them in  in a ziploc bag, flattened as much as possible.  When you want to serve it,  take the chicken and gravy and the onions out and let them thaw.  Make the rice and layer the rice on top of the chicken, then the onions and oil.  Bake as usual. Works like a charm.

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