Biryani calls for a celebration! This recipe has detailed instructions for a beloved rice dish with layers of rice, tender, aromatic lamb, chicken, or vegetables. And shot through with fresh herbs, fried onions, and a tiny drizzle of ghee for a glorious centerpiece.
Introduction to Tandoori Chicken Biryani
I have kept the biryani beginner in mind when writing this recipe so that you have a no-fail blueprint full of tips and tricks. Besides the chicken, lamb, and vegetarian biryanis, other stars of the show can be eggs or even paneer. This recipe combines the ease of skinless and boneless chicken pieces with a memorable tandoori spice mix that you can make or buy.
Don’t be put off by the length of this recipe. While biryani is a labor of love, it is actually a simple dish to make. And you can divide the steps over 2 or 3 days if that works better for you. If you don’t need the detail, simply scroll to the recipe. When I am making biryani for guests, I often cook it over three days. And the benefit is an even more flavorful biryani.
Day One is marinating the chicken. On day two, I cook the chicken and make the sauce. And on the day I am serving it, I just need to make the rice, fry the onions (which you can also buy), and layer the ingredients for the final 25-minute reheating on the stove.
After you have made biryani a time or two, you will enjoy the rhythm of it and have an oh-so-full-of flavor tandoori chicken biryani. And make quick 4-ingredient raita to go alongside.
What is to love about this recipe
- A detailed recipe with no assumptions made
- This biryani is so memorable you will make it again and again
- This is a fun "project cook" you can make over 2 to 3 days
- The spicing is customizable and I have ideas for that
- No hard-to-find ingredients
If you have done any Indian cooking you will recognize all these ingredient groups:
Spices: Many Indian dishes have a specific spice blend that gives the dish its special flavor. This dish relies on tandoori masala which you can make or buy. I also have a substitute that includes garam masala instead.
In addition, you will need ground Kashmiri chili powder and turmeric. The rice is flavored with whole cardamom, cloves, and a cinnamon stick.
Aromatics: The usual ginger, garlic, and onion triumvirate are essential. A favorite is my ginger garlic paste recipe.
Fresh herbs: The mint and cilantro combo adds freshness and aroma that takes biryani to new heights.
Tomato: I prefer to use canned tomato sauce. My local grocery has small one-cup cans that work perfectly. Fresh tomatoes work as well. Avoid diced tomatoes.
Chicken: My favorite chicken cut is chicken thighs. In this recipe, you will want skinless and boneless chicken. You can use chicken breast but you will need to be very careful not to overcook it.
Rice: Basmati is your go-to choice for biryani. Be sure to find a good quality brand that you like. See my recommendations in the FAQ section.
Other: Ghee, cream or yogurt, and lemon juice.
There are four mini-recipes for this dish.
Rice with whole spices.
Herbs and ghee for layering
How to Cook
I have broken this recipe into seven stages. Remember, most of the stages can be made a day or two ahead, except for the final 25-minute reheating just before serving.
1. Marinade the chicken
Mix the marinade ingredients except for the chicken. Trim the thighs and cut them into 3 or 4 pieces depending on their size. Stir into the marinade and coat well. Cover and pop in the refrigerator. Marinate the chicken just until you need it in the following cooking process or up to 24 hours.
2. Fry the onions
(If you don't buy them.) These onions are one step away from being dark and crispy enough to move to a paper towel. Here's more about cooking onions.
3. Build the chicken sauce (masala)
Beginning with the onions, cook until the edges begin to turn golden (1), then add the ginger and garlic paste. Cook for several minutes, then add the spices (2). Cook for 3 minutes (3) and then stir in the tomato sauce. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until the sauce thickens (4). Add water and set aside.
4. Make the rice
Using the pasta method, in 6 cups of boiling water add the whole spices and rinsed rice (5). Turn to medium heat and simmer uncovered for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the rice is cooked (6) but still firm.
5. Cook the chicken
The chicken can be broiled or sautéed on the stovetop. For this biryani, the chicken needs to be cooked all the way through. If you prefer to use the grill, head over to my tandoori grilled chicken thigh recipe for the instructions. Then cut the thighs into bite-sized pieces.
Broiler instructions: Heat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and top with a well-oiled cooling rack. Place the chicken pieces on the rack broil and for 4 minutes on each side.
Stovetop instructions: Over medium-high heat, add the oil to a frying pan. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook on each side for 3 to 5 minutes. You are wanting it to turn a nice brown and be cooked all the way through.
Tandoori chicken ready for the broiler.
The chicken finished broiling.
Add the chicken and cream to the sauce.
The sauced tandoori chicken is ready for layering.
6. Layer the biryani
This biryani has four layers. Two layers of rice and 2 layers of sauced chicken.
Layer 1: Half the chicken masala with 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro stirred in.
Layer 2: (11) Half the rice garnished with a drizzle of 1 teaspoon of ghee, sprinkle 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro, and 1/3 of the fried onions.
Layer 3: The 2nd half of the chicken. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro, and 1/3 of the fried onions.
Layer 4: (12) The 2nd half of the rice. Drizzle the remaining 1 teaspoon of ghee, sprinkle 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro, and the final 1/3 of the fried onions.
The second layer of chicken is ready for its garnishes.
The final layer of rice with a sprinkling of herbs and ghee.
7. Final 25-minute cook
Cover the biryani with a tight lid and cook over medium-high for 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for another 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow the biryani to rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Serve with raita and a salad.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between chicken tikka and tandoori chicken?
Chicken tikka uses bite-sized pieces of chicken, and tandoori chicken is made with whole parts, typically on the bone.
Is the tandoori chicken well flavored without a tandoor oven?
Yes! The spices combined with fried onions and layered with fresh herbs make a memorably delicious dish.
Why do you use the broiler to cook the chicken?
I like to be able to fit all the chicken on one tray so it is quicker and less messy.
What are some good basmati rice brands?
Since rice is the star of the show the rice you use matters. My favorite basmati rice is the aged Aau Barah (Fawn Brand). My second choice is Royal Chef's Secret Extra Long Grain White Basmati Rice. Find a brand that works well for you.
Tips and Tricks
- To avoid a soggy biryani, the sauce needs to be pretty thick before adding the water and cream. See the photograph (4).
- If you would like to add more chili heat to the biryani, add one or more minced green chilies to the sauce along with the ginger garlic paste.
- Don’t be frightened by the amount of salt in the water used to cook the rice. Most of it gets drained away, but a generous amount is needed to properly season the rice.
- Don’t skip the whole spices when cooking the rice. It helps give the whole dish a wonderful fragrance and flavor.
How to Store and Reheat Tandoori Chicken Biryani
The biryani will keep well in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days. To reheat, spoon out the amount you will be eating. Sprinkle with a bit of water, cover, and reheat in the microwave.
I have had good luck storing leftover biryani in the freezer. Store in a zipped freezer bag. When using it, ideally allow it to defrost in the freezer overnight for the best texture.
Other Biryanis You Might Like to Try
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to hear about it! Please rate by clicking stars ⭐️ on the recipe card and/or let me know in the comments below. Thank you! ~Alonna
Recipe Card 📖
Tandoori Chicken Biryani
- Heavy bottomed pot
- 1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs ~ Cut into 2-inch pieces. See Notes below
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ Or 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ To taste. See sub below
- 1 tablespoon tandoori masala ~ Or tikka masala. Buy, make or see subs below
- 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste ~ Or 1 1/2 teaspoon each ginger & garlic purée. Make!
- 1 tablespoon oil ~ Or mustard oil
Fried Onions ~ You can Also Buy
- 1/2 cup neutral oil ~ Buy if you prefer
- 2 cups onion ~ Thinly, evenly sliced
Tandoori Chicken Sauce
- 1 tablespoon oil ~ Use leftover oil from frying the onions if you wish
- 1/2 cup onions ~ Minced
- 1/2 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ Or to taste
- 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste ~ Or 1 1/2 teaspoon each ginger & garlic purée
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ To taste. See sub below
- 2 teaspoons tandoori masala ~ Or tikka masala. Buy, make or see subs below
- 1 cup tomato sauce ~ Or fresh tomatoes chopped
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup heavy cream ~ Or full-fat plain yogurt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar ~ Optional
- 6 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 8 whole cloves
- 4 whole green cardamom
- 1 tablespoon sea or table salt ~ Or 2 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher. See Notes below
- 2 1/4 cups basmati rice ~ Use a good quality rice
For Layering the Biryani
- 1/2 cup mint ~ Chopped
- 1/2 cup cilantro ~ Chopped
- 2 teaspoons ghee ~ Or melted butter. Make!
- SEE NOTES BELOW ON HOW TO MAKE THIS BIRYANI IN STAGES
Marinate the Chicken
- In a medium bowl mix together all the marinade ingredients except the chicken.
- Trim the chicken pieces and cut each thigh into 3 to 4 pieces depending on the size. Stir into the marinade and coat well. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until you are ready. If not using within 4 hours, reserve the lemon juice and stir it in just before cooking.
Fry the Onions (Birista) for Assembling the Biryani
- If needed, see more detailed instructions on cooking onions. In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat add the oil. When it is hot stir in the onions and allow to cook for 5 minutes or so. Turn down the heat to medium and allow to simmer.
- When the onions begin to brown, watch them closely. You want to remove them from the oil a shade lighter than you want them to be. They will continue to cook and darken for several minutes after removing them from the oil.
- Drain the onions on paper towels and allow to cool for 5 minutes or more. You can make the fried onions 3 days ahead, stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Freeze after that.
Cook the Sauce for the Chicken
- In a heavy bottomed pan (I find a 4-quart dutch oven works well) over medium-high heat add the oil. When it is hot stir in the onions and the salt. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.
- Turn the heat down to medium. Add the ginger garlic paste and stir for a minute or two until the paste no longer smells raw.
- Add the ground spices and stir for 2 to 3 minutes until they are fragrant. Add the tomato sauce and cook until it reduces and darkens a shade. This takes 4 to 5 minutes. You want a fairly thick sauce at this point. If you are using fresh tomatoes it will take a couple more minutes to reduce.
- Add the water and cook for another 2 minutes. When the chicken is cook through add it to the sauce along with the cream or yogurt. Taste for seasonings and add sugar or salt as neeed.
Cook the Rice
- Gently rinse the rice in a bowl filled with water to cover it. Rinse until the water is clear enough to see your hand.
- In a large pan over high heat, bring 6 cups of water to boil. Stir in the salt, whole spices, and rice. Lower the heat to medium-high and cook at a boil for 7 to 8 minutes and then check the rice. It should be 90% done: cooked through but still firm. Not mushy.
- Drain and set the rice aside. You can remove the whole spices at this point if you don't want them in your biryani.
Cooking the Chicken
Under the Broiler
- Heat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and top with a well-oiled cooling rack. Place the chicken pieces on the rack leaving some space around each piece.
- Broil the chicken for 4 minutes. If your broiler is hot enough there should be some charring. Turn the chicken over and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.
- The chicken should be cooked through. Thigh meat is best at 175 to 190 degrees. Stir the chicken into the spiced tomato sauce.
On the Stovetop
- Over medium-high heat add the oil in a frying pan. When the oil is hot add the chicken and cook on each side for 3 to 5 minutes. You are wanting it to turn a nice brown and be cooked all the way through. Depending on the size of your pan you will probably need to do this in 2 batches.
Layering the Biryani
- After you have stirred in the chicken and heavy cream into the sauce, taste for seasoning (salt/sugar). Then remove 1/2 the chicken mixture.
- Stir in 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro into the remaining chicken.
- Layer half the basmati rice over the chicken. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of ghee, sprinkle 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro, and 1/3 of the fried onions.
- Spoon the rest of the chicken over the rice. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro, and 1/3 of the fried onions.
- Layer the second half of the rice on top of the chicken. Drizzle the remaining 1 teaspoon of ghee, sprinkle 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro, and the final 1/3 of the fried onions.
Cook the Biryani
- Cover the biryani with a tight lid and cook over medium-high for 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. The biryani should get hot enough to steam for about 5 minutes. Check at the 5 minute mark to see it is steaming. If not, turn the heat up a bit.
- Turn the heat off and allow the biryani to rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Serve with raita and a salad.
Storing & Reheating
- The biryani will keep well in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- To reheat, spoon out the amount you will be eating. Sprinkle with a bit of water and reheat in the microwave.
- If you want to break down the steps to make the recipe more manageable, I like to make the sauce, fry the onions, marinate and cook the chicken up to 2 days before. Before serving, cook the rice, chop the herbs, and layer the biryani. Assemble the layer and do the final 25-minute cook and resting time.
- I am a chicken thigh person. The meat is tender, flavorful, and hard to overcook. If you want to use chicken breast in this recipe, broil or sauté it until it is just cooked through.
- Substitute for Kashmiri chili powder: 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (or sweet), and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder.
- Ideally, you will make my tandoori masala powder. If not, this recipe will give you recommendations for brands to buy. Tikka masala is also a good choice. Otherwise here is a quick spice mix that you can use to substitute for the 2 teaspoon of tandoori masala used in the marinade and again in the sauce:
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon of garam masala
- 1/4 turmeric
- SHORTCUT: Feel free to buy fried onions or shallots if you prefer.
- About Salt: It may seem like a lot of salt but this is the only opportunity you will have to season the rice, and most of the salt will be drained off.