Wednesday, 2 August 2017

“Kya pulao se aaya hoga biryani” - An insight to Biryani

Memories of food are often a powerful reality, which gets imprinted in our mind. My first encounter with biryani was when I was working as a Chef in charge at Maharaja Heritage resort, Balsamand Lake Palace, Jodhpur. This beautiful property of His Highness Mr. Gaj Singh is known for their Royal Marwar food. On his 50th Birthday ceremony, I was cooking for him at Sardar Samand lake palace, Pali, Rajasthan. Soola, Boothan, Sath, Safeed maans, Panchkutta, Mokul, khato and his highness favourite Shikampuri kebab were the selected delicacies in the menu for the gala dinner.

I saw our G.M.  Mr. Atul Chana of ITC fame, coming towards me and telling that ‘Bap Ji’ (His Highness) has asked for biryani also to be served on the royal table for the dinner tonight. It was an important order to me and that too at the last moment. Well, I have always believed not to get panic in sudden situations like this, instead calm my own self and concentrate in order to try to deliver the best i can within that short span of time.
Eventually what I did, I just boiled the rice and then layered it over the safeed maans and cooked. Though, I was skeptical but not afraid at all. Finally the biryani was served to him and he had it. Later he called me up and praised me immensely in front of all his Royal friends. He said to me that this was one of the best Biryani's he ever had till now in a really long period of time. That compliment over my confidence and effort made my day and got embarked in my mind forever.

Basically, the Safed maans has all the ingredients which are necessary for a good biryani. Rose water, Cardamom, mace, Fennel, white pepper, ghee, green chilles, ginger, poppy seed, curd and milk- basically it’s a white korma - The trick worked that day.

Rajasthan is not known for biryani except Dargah of Ajmer Sharif, they serve biryani deg, called “Sarai ki biryani”. Marwar have Kabuli pulao which is a vegetarian version with vegetables, raisins, cashewnuts etc and they also add fried breads croutons that look like meat.
“Kya pulao se aaya hoga biryani” - An insight to Biryani
India has a long history of rice cultivation. It developed on the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas. From there it got spread to the rest of the world. In India, rice is a symbol of prosperity and from the past old times it was associated with the rich people, because rice was too expensive to afford. It was cultivated and stored for the special occasions. Ghee and milk was also a part of the cooking medium and hunting was very much popular too during Aryan culture.

Rice cooked in water called ‘Bhath’ and is accompanied by ghee, curd, and dal or meat preparation. Pulao is a renowned rice preparation and an Indian delicacy being popular from the Vedic time itself. Mahabharata also referred that when meat and rice cooked together then that is a similar dish. 
''oon soru"
A rice preparation with ghee, turmeric, pepper and meat was served to warriors, which is mention in Tamil literature.
Since we all know, India was ruled by many rulers from time to time and thus has been their influence on the food. . When Alexander conquered the northern state of India at that time he had this Indian delicacy 'Pulao', which he relished a lot and took it from here
to Greece and then from Greece to Turkey. Then the pulao which travelled from India to Turkey that eventually returned back to India in the form of 'Biryani' by the Mughals. “Ain-e- Akbari", the Mughal document also states that pulao was familiar with the Indian people.
If we consider this statement then, my belief becomes even stronger on it, that the Indian Pulao which was served to the Mughal Emperor's table would have only become biryani further. Since the Muslim cooks were known for their innovation and creation of new delicacies. It might have happened that on the demand of their emperor they might have invented biryani, which was cooked in layers and was much easier to cook rice rather than pulao.


Pulao is actually a type of rice preparation, generally cooked in home when there is any special occasion, picnic, festivals or wedding. The preparation of pulao starts with frying meat/vegetables with spices and herbs in ghee (clarified butter), after that water is added which is approximately double the quantity of rice (1’inch above from the level of rice) in the prepared meat/vegetables. Later rice is added and simmered together to absorb the flavours of the spices. This process is called - absorption method.

Soaking is very important in the making of pulao, it helps in minimising starch upto a limit and another characteristic is that the grain of the prepared pulao comes out evenly and separately. Very low heat applied from both the sides which gives pulao a definition of what it is!!!

Rice/Pulao is generally cooked by a male Brahmin (Maharaj) due to its huge volume in the ritual ceremonies in India.
Basic pulao recipes-
1 kg old aged rice/1 kg mutton curry cut pieces/250 gm desi Ghee/250 gm onion/100 gm curd/1 pod garlic/ 1 pcs ginger /5 nos green chillies/½ tsp cumin seed /10 nos clove /10 nos black cardamom /4 nos bay leaf /4 pcs cinnamon/Salt to taste...
First, wash and soak rice for 1 hour. Then fry half of the onion in ghee and pound it nicely. Make a paste of ginger and garlic and strain the juice and keep it aside. Marinate the mentioned ingredients all together- chillies, cumin, cinnamon, curd, salt and juice of ginger and garlic. In a pot, fry bay leaf, clove and cardamom and then add the rest of the onion and fry it upto golden. Now, add the marinated mutton and stir nicely till golden brown colour comes in. Simmer it till all the ghee comes on the top and then you can say that meat is cooked nicely. Now, drain the water from the rice and put in the prepared korma. Check the seasoning and when the rice absorbs the juice of the meat nicely, cover it and then cook it on dum.

Kabuli pulao/Moti pulao/Kofta pulao/Kashmiri pulao/Yakni pulao/Boot pulao/Muzaffer/Zard/Muthanjan/Shahjahani/Coorgi yarchi pulao etc

My recommendation to the readers - Soak the rice, drain the water from it and spread it over a table cloth and let it dry first then fry it in the ghee and later add to the Yakhni to enhance the flavours of the pulao. Always keep this in mind, in order to prevent rice to get overdone add little curd to the pulao before adding water/yakni to it.

“Biryani ka matlab”- 
Biryani comes from a Persian word ‘’ Birinj aur Biriyan’’, Birinj is rice and biriyan means fried- literally means fried rice. Apart from this there is no other evidence about biryani nomination.
Biryani is a combination of rice and meat/poultry/fish/vegetables. It was brought to India by the Mughals and was spread by them to all over the Indian regions, where they ruled. The traditional Mughlai biryani was not documented even in Ain-e Akbari, it has description only about the types of meal which used to be served, and it was meat with rice i.e. pulao/ biryani.


Biryani is a Muslim food and kebab was an accompaniment to the Biryani. Dastarkhwan, a ceremonial spread used to have an array of dishes- from kebabs to Korma and Qaliya all eaten together with biryani. The quality of a cooked biryani can be tested by throwing a handful of it on the ground in a spray. If the grains of rice fall separately from each other then it is supposed to be a good biryani.

Biryani is basically a winter dish. Cooking style of biryani is different in every community in India. Necks, Barrah, parchas and ndare are the various cuts of mutton with least fibrous meat which are best suited for preparing Biryani. The good practice of eating habits says that the food rich in blood are supposed to be consumed in winters. Likewise, biryani has the attributes of a man/the warrior and is considered as sexually potent.
Delhi who was an evidence of Imperial kitchen of Mughals had developed many cooking styles. Mughals were known for having a high sense of taste and aroma of the food. From here they had spread it to all over the Indian Sub-regions. In Delhi, here biryani is cooked in a single layer or double layer with ghee and is being sold in kgs at small eating joints and thelas all over. It is quite a popular as it justifies its worth with the quantity they sell. So that, “koi yah na kahe ki kam di biryani khane ko”

The yield of the prepared biryani is approx. 1 kg meat + 1 kg rice = 4 kg of biryani.

Biryani can be categorised into two forms - ‘Kutchi' (raw) and 'Pukki' (cooked).
Lucknowi biryani is known as ‘Pukki’ biryani and the Hyderabadi is famous for ‘Kutchi’ biryani. According to the 'pukki' style, meat and rice are cooked separately then layered in a ‘Deg’, brass vessel for the finishing whereas in ‘Kutchi’ biryani style (with raw gravy); meat, marinade and rice are layered raw and cooked in 'Dum'.


DEG / DEGCHI: This is a pear-shaped pot of brass, copper or aluminium. The shape of this utensil is ideally suited for the 'dum' method and is used for cooking Pulao, Biryani, Nehari or Shab Deg.

Lucknow was ruled by the Nawab Asaf - ud – Daulah, who were of Persian origin. He was a connoisseur and a great lover of cuisine, who is said to have maintained six kitchens and spent vast sums of money inventing fabulous delicacies. Lucknowi, ‘’Rakabdar ‘’developed the ‘’Dum style’’ of cooking in which food is cooked for a long period of time.

RAKABDAR: In the Royal kitchens of Awadh, this designation was equivalent to that of today’s Gourmet Chefs. Their job was to look after how the food has been prepared, the process and procedure of cooking, the quality etc, they don't use to cook themselves oftenly and rarely in small quantities if required. 

Chilman Biryani

Lucknowi biryani is highly aromatic and full of meaty flavours. It is scented with saffron and vetiver, some used to cook it with dry fruits and nuts also.  They don’t put tenderizer at all. There are many innovative biryanis by Nawabi Rakabdar in Lucknow.
Lucknow serves pukki form of biryani. Pukki means cooked. This biryani mainly has three steps:-

The meat is fried in ghee and cooked with ginger, garlic, crushed fried onion and little milk with warm aromatic spices till the meat becomes tender. The prepared meat yakhni is drain out and jugalbandi of atter with saffron, cardamom and mace are added after checking the seasoning. The nazakat of Lucknowi biryani is that no whole spices should come to your mouth while you are having it.

The rice is slightly fried in Ghee, and boiled in the meat broth or water.

Cooked meat and cooked rice are layered twice or more in a deg. Saffron or food grade lemon yellow and orange colours are sprinkled on the layered rice. Then the deg is sealed and cooked over low heat. The result is perfectly cooked meat, rice, and a homogenous flavour of aromatic meat yakni, aromatic spices and sweet flavors.

The city Hyderabad is known as a land of Biryani in India. The famous Kacchi gosht ki biryani is prepared with marinated lamb and rice cooked together. The use of tenderizer i.e. papaya in marination (Kachi yakni) makes the difference here. The highly aromatic biryani has green and red chillies, peppercorn, star anise, cardamom, kebabchini, mint etc.
In Hyderabad collection of biryani is rich and vast and in their both preparation whether it is vegetarian or non- vegetarian and has many delicacies.
The Hyderabadi Muslims got their food habits from the Mughals. Hyderabad serves both the original Hindu Andra style and Mughlai Hyderabadi biryani which highly influences by Mughal imperial kitchen. One main preparation difference is the use of lemon juice instead of tamarind juice by Muslims. Andhra produced largest chillies which actually reflect in their biryani which is why it is much spicier then north. Here, mirch ka salan and bhurani are eaten with biryani, which helps to aid digestion.

Bhurani is a good healthy combination with biryani supposed to prevent constipation occurs due to rice.

Procedure of making Hyderabadi kache gosht ki biryani -

Mutton is marinated with lemon juice, green papaya paste, curd, onion, garlic herbs and spices with desi ghee. The marination is kept for minimum 1 hr to 4 hr in the fridge.

Rice is soaked, drained and cooked in mutton stock or water with potli masala. The first layer of cooked rice is almost 30% done spared all over the marinated mutton and the second layering is of 50% cooked rice is added and spread nicely. Pre-soaked saffron milk is sprinkled all over the rice and more ghee is added on the top.

Seal the deg with dough and put the lid on and live charcoal is placed on the top as well and let it cook on slow flame till done. 

In my early commi days, I used to marinate the meat very well for the kache gosht ki biryani, the only problem I faced was while cooking rice. The timing to take out the rice from the boiling pot and layering it over the meat was very important and one has to leave some water along with the boiled rice while pouring it over the marinated meat. If you didn't maintain the timing it spoils the whole process of making biryani. The biggest challenge for me was to maintain the consistency. Either the grain of biryani were too mashy or the rice/ meat remain raw.

Hyderabad is also known for its Pulao, Qubooli Mughal influence rice and lentil preparation. It is also cooked with meat as a non veg option.

Potli ka masala
Black cardamom /cinnamon/bay leaf/coriander seeds/kebabchini/dried rose petals/kapoor kachai/pan ki jad/star anise/stone flower/sandal wood/khus ki jad/gehunwala

On my grand trunk culinary journey trip, I got chance to explore the biryani of Calcutta. It was quite a knowledgeable opportunity. Calcutta is known for their love towards biryani. One can easily assume that Calcutta biryani is a true copy of Lucknowi biryani. Every aspect of biryani is equally same, only difference is the uses of potatoes in it. If you ask me then, I must say, Calcutta biryani has less ghee and kushboo in comparison to Lucknowi biryani. The best part is that it was light in taste.

Calcutta Biryani

Why Potatoes in Calcutta biryani?? One of my friends who are a school teacher, Debolina Mustaufi expressed:-
Mouth-watering biriyani have stolen the hearts of people of every region of India, with the expansion of Islamic rule in India the culinary expansion also happened simultaneously. Along with the Nawab Wajid Ali Shah coming to Bengal, biriyani spreaded its fragrance to millions of Khaddyo Rasik (food loving) Bengalis. The Lucknowi biriyani with a yummy tender potato along with meat pieces had made its entry to the long list of mukhorochok (mouth-watering) khaddyo talika (Ala carte) of Bengali cuisine. You must be wandering why a Potato in biriyani??Well that reminds us of a saying "you have to adjust with ups and downs of life and enjoy to the fullest”. The Nawab lost his wealth but not the taste, so his chef found that the boiled succulent potato can be the alternative for the eggs in the biriyani. There begins the journey of potato along with the meat in biriyani. No wonder that this boiled potato cooked with spices adds the volume to the dish and has blended so well that now it has become another style of this age old preparation of biriyani, named Kolkata style biriyani...

Difference between Lucknowi and Hyderabadi biryani

Pulao vs Biryani

Basmati the finest long grain rice quality in world comes from India and some parts of Pakistan and known for their aromatic fragrance which is ideal for the biryani and pulao due to their non-sticky characteristic .Both white and brown are very much in use and can give really result good when stored and aged for 2 to 5 years. Old aged basmati rice requires less water to cook in comparison to the new age one.

Tahari is neither a pulao nor a biryani, both Lucknow and Hyderabad claim it to be an expert in making of it. Pilibhit ki tahari is one of the most famous one. Use of mustard oil and turmeric provides Lucknowi tahari the different taste and texture. Potatoes, cauliflower are cooked with yellow masala rice is the most likely tahari in north India. It appears like a pulao, while the ingredients used are as similar to biryani. Hyderabadi take on tahari is similar to their dish and is much closer to biryani. One more unique aspect which differentiates tahari from pulao and biryani is that the tahari is comparatively spicier. 

Food provides nutrition to the body. Biryani has all the main five nutrients which required to a good health. That’s why Biryani is a complete meal in itself.

If biryani is perfect then it really doesn’t require any accompaniments – don’t remember exactly who said this but heard from many Muslims friends.

Now, it’s time to talk about why I am writing or trying to understand biryani. The reason lies in my previous article on curry; someone has requested me to write about biryani as well. Honestly speaking cooking rice is a very difficult subject to handle in home as well as in hotel business. One has to be perfect while dealing with biryani and pulao even simple rice needs experience to cook it perfectly. Kehtey hain, “Aag, Hawa, Pani Aur Nazar ka khumar hai cooking”, ya phir kahe to, “haath ki safai hai”.

Here, I am not trying to claim any statement it is just for the viewers reading pleasure.

Happy Cooking...............


  1. Very well written ! Interesting for chefs to read