What is Biryani? Learn About This Classic Layered Rice Dish

Biryani is a classic layered rice dish in Indian cuisine

Roasted nuts. Toasted spices. Fluffy basmati rice.

Often the star of the show at holidays and family celebrations, biryani captures the mouthwatering sensations of Indian comfort food.

This rice dish comes in hundreds of regional variations and each features crunchy vegetables, perfectly seasoned rice, and tender meat like chicken thigh or drumsticks.

Let’s learn all about this classic layered rice dish and why you should seek out a delicious bowl of chicken biryani for your next night-in.

What is Biryani?

The Basics of Biryani

Biryani is a delicious rice dish peppered with scrumptious spices like saffron and cumin and further layered with spiced meat or veggie protein. Typically, this layered rice dish is enriched with added yogurt or ghee, a clarified butter, for an extra boost of luxurious flavor. 

Let’s dive into the different components that make up biryani and how the wild variations this dish can display:

Rice

While biryani can be made with many different types of rice such as seeraga samba or jeerakasala, long-grain basmati rice is typically the main grain used.

If your local grocery store doesn’t offer basmati, be sure to check out a local Indian grocery store or even order a few pounds online if you have to. 

Trust us, your biryani will thank you.

Meat

The protein found within each distinct biryani varies widely from region to region. Coastal towns typically lean towards a seafood-oriented biryani with more fish and shrimp while areas that are more inland typically include chicken, goat, and occasionally, lamb or mutton. Of course, you can create a scrumptious veggie biryani, though the dish is traditionally served with meat.

Marinade

The meat usually soaks in an extensive marinade with the most common being a yogurt-spice base. The pungent acid within the yogurt gradually softens the meat, creating a truly melt-in-your-mouth texture in the best biryani dishes.

Spices

The spices within biryani really allow this dish to shine, with garam masala being a simple but great choice to infuse a rainbow of flavor into every bite. Nuts and seeds such as succulent cardamom pods often feature, providing crunchy texture along with fried onions and dried fruit.

There are many different ways to cook biryani, though the most common is likely the dum method. This is a slow-cooking technique in which the rice is layered raw, marinated meat in a heavy pot. 

The pot is then sealed with dough to trap in the marinating flavors and cooked for several hours over a low flame. This dum technique allows the flavors to marry and integrate, ensuring each bite is packed with a delicious, spiced flavor.

A delicious dish of chicken biryani

A Brief History of Biryani

The origins of biryani are hotly debated, with many historians believing the dish originated in Persia and assimilated into India through the Mughal Empire. Others believe that Arab traders brought biryani to the Indian subcontinent by way of Malabar in South India. 

Once biryani found its way to South Asia, the dish exploded in popularity and diversity with distinct regional varieties found from the Himalayas to the southern coast.

India and Pakistan are home to hundreds of versions of the dish, with each variation more flavorful than the last. Let’s learn a bit about the different types of biryani. 

How to Make Chicken Biryani

While it can be challenging at first, learning to craft your own biryani can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Let’s dive into a great beginner chicken biryani recipe made in the Hyderabadi style!

How-To:

  1. Tenderize your chicken breast and cover in a mixture of yogurt, lemon juice, and spices.
  2. Mix everything well and allow the chicken to marinate for at least one hour.
  3. Add your basmati rice to a large pot and rinse it three or four times. Drain the rice and soak in water for thirty minutes. 
  4. Heat ghee in a heavy-bottomed pot or Instant Pot.
  5. Sauté cloves, cinnamon, and green cardamom pods along with sliced onions.
  6. Add your marinated chicken and sauté for four minutes.
  7. Lower the flame, cover, and cook until the chicken is fully tender and cooked. 
  8. Layer your drained rice over the chicken.
  9. Add sprigs of saffron and fried onions.
  10. Cover the pot and cook at low heat until the biryani flavors are fully integrated. This could take anywhere from 1-2 hours to allow the flavors to completely marinate.

There you have it! Of course, the joy of cooking is in experimentation, though this Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani recipe should provide a solid foundation for you to build on as you dive further into the glorious world of biryani.

Regional Variations of Biryani

For every spelling of biryani, there are about ten different ways to prepare this aromatic rice dish. Here are a few of our favorite biryani recipes!

Sukhi’s Chicken Biryani, a delicious rice dish made in minutes

Hyderabadi Biryani

Scrumptiously spicy, this variant of biryani is a bit lighter than other variants with less gravy. Instead, this dish focuses heavily on the herbs and spices locked within the layered rice with crisp cinnamon, clove, green cardamom, and saffron.

Dindigul Biryani 

This version of biryani utilizes smaller chunks of meat, jeera samba rice over the typical basmati, and shakes in a hefty heap of black pepper for an extra spicy bite.

Sukhi’s Chicken Biryani is the perfect choice for an easy meal of delicious biryani

A Biryani For Every Occasion

Across the Indian subcontinent and abroad, there are hundreds of variations of biryani. You’d likely need a lifetime to try them all! 

Whether you’re cooking up your own pot or eating out, ultimately, the best biryani is the one that’s convenient for you. 

Sukhi’s Chicken Biryani is a cinch to heat up from the comfort of your home. This dish pairs succulent chicken with fragrant rice and aromatic spices like ginger, cumin, and turmeric. Made with antibiotic-free chicken, Sukhi’s Chicken Biryani delivers guilt-free flavor from the freezer to ready-to-eat in just three minutes.

While it tastes absolutely delicious on its own, you might find it tastes even better along with a side of raita (yogurt with cucumbers and raw veggies). The cool yogurt contrasts the hot rice dish while adding delicious creaminess.

Once you’ve finished your last bite, browse through our blog to learn everything there is to know about Indian cuisine. Of course, there’s only so much you can glean from reading. 

If you’re more of a hands-on learner, order one of our delicious entreés or naanwiches to taste the wonders on offer in the wide world of Indian food!

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