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, 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.
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
1 – 2 small glasses of water
1/2 cup plain yogurt, stirred well plus more for serving
3 1/2 cups basmati rice
6 1/2 cups of water
1 Tbsp kosher salt
3-4 large onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
In large pot, mix the chicken, spice mix, garlic, ginger and water. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer until chicken is cooked and soft. (Probably about an hour.) You want to end up with about 2 cups of liquid gravy (in addition to the chicken of course) so if you end up with much more, just cook it a little longer. If you have less, add more water during cooking.
Remove from heat. (If you want to pour it into a catering tray and freeze it at this point, you can.)
Stir the yogurt well and pour it over the chicken mixture evenly.
Cook the rice with the 1 Tbsp salt until just about done, and layer it on top of the chicken and gravy. It is important to make sure the rice isn’t overcooked and too soft, since the moisture in the gravy will add moisture to the rice.
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.
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 – you will use it all in the dish. (I often start the onions before I even start the chicken to save time. You can also cook the onions and then freeze them, and heat them just before you assemble the dish.) For the wedding this summer, I fried 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. (If you start with a frozen base, you’ll need to either cook it longer or you’ll want to thaw the base for a couple of hours.)
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 washed garbanzo beans, one cup of shelled pistachios, and 1 cup of frozen peas for the meat. Add the peas until the very last minute or they get mushy. (I sometimes just put the peas on top of the mixture in the tray since it all gets mixed up anyway. That way they stay nice and green, but still absorb plenty of flavor.)