This glorious Tandoori Chicken Biryani is perfect for beginners and impressive enough to WOW your family and friends. Such a beautifully fragrant combination of golden brown tandoori chicken and fluffy, aromatic rice.
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
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.
PLEASE NOTE: The nutrition count does not include the 1/2 cup of oil used to fry the onions and the 1 tablespoon of salt in the rice cooking water. Most of which is poured away.