Biryani and Postcards

What a strange combination. I am not asking you to chop postcards into biryani. Though I quite appreciate paper in my mouth. As a child I used to tear paper, make little balls and pop them into my mouth. Then chew, chew, chew. Did you too? I cannot judge as you can well figure out.

Wednesday has rolled in with the promise of a long Easter weekend. Yippee. We have extended it by a few more days and the mission is to soak up the sun in Cornwall. That is our favourite haunt in the country. Cornflower blue seas, full-fat ice creams, fish & chips, amphitheatres overlooking the sea, caves and cliffs, how can you not fall in love with that kind of a holiday? What are your plans for Easter?

Before I start with the (slightly lengthy) process of biryani making and listing out the ingredients, I want to thank you all, dear readers, because you make this journey of living full of fun and frolic. I look forward to it every day and enjoy my random conversations with you. When I am 80 (if I get there), all this will count in making a toothless me grin. This biryani is my way of saying thank you. If you put yourself through the process of making your own biryani spice mix, cook it and dish it out to your family, you might just get shut eyes and mmm sounds.

I also wanted to send out extra love and thanks to KristynAngelaV and Michaela who nominated me for blog awards which I had already participated in. Nonetheless it makes my day to be thought of by any one of you. These girls have lovely blogs, so please take a look at them?

Now, to get down to biryani brass tacks. It is a slow-cooked aromatic rice dish from India. As you know India is not exactly small, plus its various regions have diverse styles of cooking, which makes it like a treasure house of delicious recipes. The biryani itself has some 20 avataars. My favourite one is the style that belongs to my city of Calcutta.

In an area called Metiabruz there, the 10th (and also last) nawab of the former princely state of Oudh/Awadh arrived in 1865, freshly stripped off his royal privileges by the British. With him travelled his retinue. But of course. This nawab, Wajid Ali Shah, was conscious of his image and he wanted to feed them well. Yet it was difficult on the stipend he received from the British. His Awadhi style of biryani was cooked using potatoes to add volume to the rice dish – which would also supplement the absence of enough meat.

Potatoes at the time were a delicacy because the British were growing the crop in Dehradun. For Bengalis, potatoes (or alu as we lovingly refer to them) are a staple that will not be left out from most dishes, no sir. You will possibly not have biryani anywhere else with potatoes in it.

This particular biryani reminds of the wonderful Arsalan, an eatery in Calcutta that dishes out the best biryanis and Mughlai dishes you will ever sink your teeth into. If you are in Calcutta next time, or for the first time, you know where to head.

Calcutta Chicken Biryani

Serves: 4

Chicken thighs              700-800gm

Basmati rice                   400gm

Large potatoes               2

Hard-boiled egg             4

Beresta (fried sliced red onions, using 3 medium ones)

Plain yogurt (beaten)     3-4 tbsp

Ginger-garlic paste        1 tbsp

Lime juice 1 tbsp

Red chilli powder           1 tsp

White pepper powder   1/2 tsp

Biryani masala                1 1/2 tbsp (Dry roast each of these spices separately on a medium flame and grind them into a fine powder – 10 pods of cardamom, 10-12 pieces of clove, 3″ cinnamon stick, 2 bay leaves, 2 nutmeg, 5 mace, 1 1/2 tbsp of caraway seeds)

Cloves                               5-6

Green cardamom          5-6 pods

Alubukhara/dried plum 2-3

Milk powder                   2 tbsp

Kewra water                  1 tbsp

Rose water                     1/2 tbsp

Few strands of saffron (soaked in 2 tbsp warm milk)

Milk                                  1 cup

Salt, to taste

Ghee                                  3 tbsp

Cooking oil (mustard/ rapeseed) 3-4 tbsp

Initial Preps

  • Marinate chicken with salt, ginger-garlic paste, yogurt, chilli powder, white pepper powder, 1 tbsp biryani masala, 1/2 tbsp kewra water and 1 tbsp cooking oil for about 2 hours. For even better flavours, marinate overnight.
  • Peel potatoes and cut them into halves. Coat with salt and turmeric. Boil them till they are half-cooked.
  • Smear boiled eggs with salt and turmeric powder. Shallow fry them in 1-2 tbsp of oil.
  • Heat 1 tbsp oil in a big pan over medium flame and cook the marinated chicken in it with half the beresta. Cook till oil separates from the mixture. Add approximately 1 1/2 cups of hot water, cover with a lid and let the chicken cook. As the chicken becomes tender, remove it from the pan and keep it aside. In the meanwhile, reduce the gravy to about 3/4 cup measure.
  • Wash and soak the rice in cold water for at least 10 mins. Boil it with 2 1/2 tsp salt, green cardamom and cloves. Cook the rice till it is half done and then drain the water and discard the spices.

The Final and Easy Instalment

  • Grease a heavy bottomed pan (with a narrow-ish mouth and a lid that fits well) with 1/2 tbsp ghee. Pour the chicken gravy into it, add lime juice, dried plums, remaining biryani masala, 1 tbsp ghee, 1/2 cup milk, chicken pieces and mix well. Then place potatoes over the chicken and sprinkle the remaining beresta.
  • Now spread half of the rice over it. At this point you can add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder blended into 2 tbsp milk (if you want to add colour to you rice). Pour in saffron milk, rose water, kewra water, milk powder and remaining ghee over the rice.
  • Finally, top up with the leftover rice and milk. Bung in the eggs. Cover the pan and put it on medium flame for 6-8 minutes. Lower the flame and let it be for 30-35 minutes till the rice is properly cooked. Check for liquid at the bottom. If that extra liquid has almost dried up, your biryani is ready.

Ta daa. Now all you gotta do is gobble it up.

Below are the postcards from my big box of them.

Scan 3.jpeg
Was he the strongest man on earth? He would never say no to biryani surely.
Pretenders of the Future French 1893 Art Nouveau poster.jpeg
French Advertising Poster for the grand fete of Paris in 1893.
Paris le Pantheon.jpeg
Le Pantheon, Paris.
La Belle Epoque.jpeg
La Belle Epoque. The French brand of nostalgia.
Giovanni Boldini (Le Comte Robert de Montesquiou) 1897.jpeg
An 1897 portrait of Le Comte Robert de Montesquiou, a French dandy and poet, by Italian portrait painter Giovanni Boldini. An author described him: “Tall, black-haired, rouged, Kaiser-moustached, he cackled and screamed in weird attitudes, giggling in high soprano, hiding his little black teeth behind an exquisitely gloved hand—the poseur absolute. Montesquiou’s homosexual tendencies were patently obvious, but he may in fact have lived a chaste life. He had no affairs with women, although in 1876 he reportedly once slept with the great actress Sarah Bernhardt, after which he vomited for twenty-four hours. (She remained a great friend.)”
Jean Beraud Parisienne place de la Concorde. Oil painting. jpeg.jpeg
Oil painting of a Parisienne beauty by French painter Jean Beraud. At Place de la Concorde.


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