As I was sitting at a wayside dhaba on the highway to Hyderabad, we heard loud protests and an argument arising between a few customers and the owner. We learned that it was because the dhaba was serving Hyderabadi biryani that day and not Andhra-style biryani, which these regulars were used to.
That really got my friends, Bhavna and Sundeep, well-known architects who were travelling with me, reacting as biryani lovers. They pounced on me wanting to know what the difference between a Hyderabadi and an Andhra biryani was, for to them, a biryani was a biryani, all alike.
Biryani itself has such a rich heritage and history, and most of us believe that it was given to us by the Mughals or Timur, when he invaded. The origin of biryani has always held a special fascination and an enduring interest for me. It was the pilaf or pulov, which was created by the cooks of the invading Muslim soldiers, when they set up camp.
A one pot meal was required and in went whatever they hunted down and found. Biring is the Persian word for rice, and even though there is a royal court cuisine aura about biryani, it is pan-Indian. Among the biryanis from the North, there would be four distinct ones, but from the South and East of India, the variety is breathtaking.
South India is all about rice eaters, therefore, the varieties of rice used in the biryanis are so varied. Basmati rice is the newest addition to south Indian biryanis, prior to which it was the native grown rice varieties like ponni, jeeraga samba, etc., which were used in the dish.
The trading communities’ links with the Middle East and the Arab traders were forged before the Muslim invaders. These traders shaped the Muslim communities of coastal India, especially the South. There is a big difference in biryanis in the way the meat is cooked — kaccha and pucca. In kaccha biryani, the meat is raw and cooked along with the rice.
In pucca, the meat is half-cooked, like the rice, and then layered to be cooked in dum. The biryani route in India is a full-time connoisseurs’ voyage from Kashmir to Kanniyakumari. Nothing, including the accompaniments served with the dish, will be the same or taste similar in different parts of the country.
My friends were totally fascinated, and readily ordered a Hyderabadi biryani with mirchi ka salan to go with it. Only a biryani connoisseur would know the artistic and subtle differences in the different variants. Just like a wine taster,this too, needs an expert palate. So, next time you cook or taste a biryani, know where it originates from and how authentic it is.
Hyderabadi Mutton Dum Biryani
Preparation time: 2 hrs
Cooking time: 50 min
Mutton boneless: 3 kg
Ginger garlic paste: 3 tbsp
Kashmiri red chilli powder: 1 tbsp
Turmeric powder: 1 tbsp
Salt: as per taste
Coriander leaves: 1 bunch
Mint leaves: 1 bunch
Green chillies: 6
Caraway seeds: 1 tbsp
Cinnamon sticks: 3
Bay leaves: 6
Star anise: 3
Black peppercorns: 10
Cumin powder: 1 tbsp
Coriander powder: 1 tbsp
Fried onions: 4 cups
Sesame seeds: 1 tsp
Cashew nuts: 1/2 cup paste
Poppy seeds: 1 ½ tsp
Badam essence: 1 tsp
Kewra essence: 2 tsp
Saffron strands: A few
Fresh whole milk: 2 cups
Yogurt: 2 cups
Oil: 1/2 cup
Pure ghee: ½ cup
Lemon juice: 1 tbsp
Garam masala powder: 1 tbsp
Long grain basmati rice: 3 kg
For dum seasoning: Refined/groundnut oil: 1 tbsp
Coriander leaves: 1 tbsp
Mint leaves: 1 tbsp
Fried onions: 1/2 cup
Lemon juice: 1 tbsp
Saffron flavoured milk: 1 cup
Ghee: 1/2 cup
For garnish: Fried onions
- Wash the mutton pieces well with lemon juice, water and strain. Add ginger garlic paste, red chilli powder, turmeric, cumin, coriander powders and salt. Mix well.
- In a blender, blitz a bunch of coriander leaves, mint leaves, green chillies and salt to make a green paste. Add this paste to the mutton marinade.
- Add whole spices, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, black peppercorns, caraway seeds, saffron-soaked milk to the mutton. After mixing, crush the fried onions, beaten yogurt, garam masala, lemon juice to the marinade and mix well.
- Set this marinade in a refrigerator for about three hours.
- Place a frying pan on the stove, add 1/4 cup of oil, and 1 tsp ghee. When hot, sauté some chopped onions, ginger garlic paste and the prepared green paste. Saute with 2 tbsp milk. Add in the cashew nut, poppyseed and sesame paste, along with some Kashmiri chilli powder.
- Add in the marinated mutton, dry masalas and cook for 15 minutes. When the mutton is half done, turn off the heat and set aside.
To Cook The Rice:
- Wash basmati rice and soak it for 35 minutes. In a cooking pot, add water, a cup of milk, star anise, caraway seeds, black peppercorns, cardamom and a pinch of saffron. Once the water comes to a boil, add the soaked rice to it.
- Cook the rice for about 7 minutes until it is three-fourths done. Strain the water and spread the rice out on a plate.
Procedure For Dum-Cooking:
- In a cooking pot, add a cup of oil on the base. Add half of the cooked mutton and spread it evenly. Now add cooked rice over it and spread the rice evenly over the mutton.
- Repeat another layer with mutton and rice on top. Sprinkle some coriander leaves, mint leaves, fried onions and slit green chillies. Add in kewra essence, badam essence and lemon juice over the rice.
- Add saffron-flavoured milk to get an orange colour. Pour it over the rice, followed by some ghee.
- Place a lid on top of the pot, and seal it with chapati dough. Turn on the flame and dum the biryani on slow flame for about 45 minutes.
- Take the biryani out with a spatula from one corner, making sure to place it deep enough to get both rice and mutton. Serve the biryani with fried onion garnish and coriander and mint leaves.
- Serve with a side of onion raita or mirchi ka salan as desired.
- Always soak the rice when the period of mutton marination is about to complete
- Do not cook the rice for a long time as it becomes soggy while cooking in dum method
- The longer the time of marination, the tastier the mutton would turn out
— Chef Ramaa Shanker is the author of ‘Festive Offerings to the Gods: Divine Soul Recipes’