Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chicken Biryani - A Novel Feast

Every Indian Non-Vegetarian loves a good Chicken Biryani. If there's one that doesn't like it, then I'd say he hasn't tasted real Biryani yet. Chicken Biryani, a delightful dish with rice simmered in a spicy chicken gravy, is everybody's favourite dish. You can call it a spicy Indian casserole. Just like there are a zillion recipes for meatballs, there are a zillion recipes to make Biryani too. Because of its heat and spiciness, it is a wonderful winter food. I am participating in Meenakshi's 'From my Rasoi' carnival and I couldnt think of a better winter food than Chicken Biryani.

When I think of Biryani, the aroma and taste of the Muslim Biryani made by our friendly neighbors who share it with us during the Ramzaan, comes to my mind. Nothing, no great chef's biryani can beat that taste. You got to eat it to believe it. On the big day of Ramzaan, My siblings and me will be eagerly waiting for Asha-amma to bring the Biryani for us. Too bad, Ramzaan comes once a year! Someday I'll sit down next to Asha-amma and write down her original recipe.

Till then, there are other recipes. Well, I never follow a recipe to the core. I can't. I live by the principle - 'A good cook is one who adds her/his signature touch to any dish that she/he makes'. That's what happened to Biryani too. It was a mix and match of many different biryani recipes. And it came out real good! Boy, I was pleased and so was DH. The main thing about a biryani is to marinate the meat overnight, in the refrigerator, along with a few spices. This helps to tenderize the meat and allow the flavors to get absorbed in the meat.

Thick Yogurt - 2 cups (Made of whole milk) - standard cupsize - 8 oz
Chilli powder - 1 heaping tsp
Salt - 1/2 tsp Pepper - 1 tsp
Lemon juice - 2 tbsp
Chicken - 3 pounds (Cut into big pieces and pierce with a fork or knife to allow the marinade to steep in)

Beat the 2 cups of yogurt using an egg beater (wire whisk), add the other ingredients (except chicken) and beat well till well mixed. Add the chicken now and stir carefully using a wooden spatula. Make sure all the chicken pieces are well coated in the marinade. Cover this with a saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Making of the Biryani:

Onions - 3 sliced lengthwise
Tomatoes - 4-5 (chopped finely)
Mint/Pudina leaves - a bunch - use only the leaves
Ginger-Garlic Paste - 4-5 Tbsp
Cardamom - 4 (Crush using a pestle and mortar into a coarse powder)
Cinnamon - 4
Clove - 4
Bay leaves - 4
Peppercorns - 1/4 tsp
Fennel seeds - 1/4 tsp
Garam masala powder - 1 tbsp & 1/4 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder - 1 tsp (heaped teaspoonful)
Basmati Rice - 3 mugs (washed) I use a coffee mug - about 11 oz
Oil - 1/4 cup
Ghee/clarified butter - 1/4 cup
A few strands of saffron soaked in 1/4 cup of warm milk and kept aside
Whole Biryani masala - a fistful (This comprised of Star anise/annasi poo/badalphool - 2, Lichen/kalpaasi/dagadphool - about 2 tbsp, marattimokku/dried immature capers - 2, Dried Rose petals - 2 tbsp. It also had bay leaves, but I removed those that came in this masala since the bayleaves were broken. see note *)

1.. Mix the oil and ghee together and heat it in a thick bottomed pan. When the oil and ghee warms up, it gives a very nice aroma. Now, is the time to add the fennel seeds, 2 cinnamon, 2 cloves, half of the crushed cardamom, whole biryani masala, peppercorns and half of bayleaves. In low heat, saute well till they are roasted. Add the onions and saute them till they are slightly brown. Add the ginger garlic paste and saute till the raw smell disappears. (I prefer to roast the garlic and ginger in a little oil in a small cast iron pan before grinding it. Note: You can also add a paste of green chillies ground with a bit of salt, if you like it very spicy.) Add the tomatoes and saute them as well. Now add the mint leaves and saute them till they are well done. Add the 1 tbsp garam masala powder, turmeric powder and the chilli powder and allow them to get slightly roasted in the oil before the chicken pieces are added. Now, add the chicken pieces along with the yogurt marinade and stir slightly. Add a cup of water and cover this sauce pan and continue till the chicken is half cooked. Remember, all this is done at a very low heat to bring out the best flavor in the biryani. If you think the half-cooked chicken curry has a lot of gravy, don't be surprised. You'll see it's use in step 3.

2. As soon as you cover the chicken curry to let it half-cook, in step 1, you have to start preparing the rice. In the rice cooker, measure in 4 cups of water, add the rice, the remaining cloves and cinnamon, pour in the saffron milk mixture, 1 tsp salt, 2 bay leaves, 1/4 tsp garam masala powder and stir using a wooden spoon. Switch on the rice cooker. This will automatically come to warm mode, once the water is absorbed and the rice is half cooked. By this time, the chicken would be half-cooked on the stove top.

3. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease the baking dish or line it with foil and then grease it using ghee. Spread a layer of half-cooked rice and then spread a layer of half-cooked chicken from the curry. Repeat these layers till the rice and chicken are completely used in the layers. Now pour the gravy over these layers. It should look well drenched. Cover with another aluminium foil and make sure the ends are tightly sealed. This can be done by pressing your finger against the rim of the baking dish.

4. Bake at 400 F for 30 mins. Switch the oven off and leave it in the oven for another 20 mins. It's crucial not to open the oven door once the baking time of 30 mins is over.

5. Serve piping hot with Raita. For Raita: Mix together - one cup of beaten yogurt with an onion - thinly sliced, a few cilantro leaves, chopped green chillies, 1 tbsp lemon juice and salt.

Note* : I got this masala from India. Just ask 'Biryani masala or biryani saamaan' in any Indian grocery store and they seem to know what this is. If you do not have this, don't fret. You can use just star anise too. While writing this recipe down after I made the biryani, I had forgotten that I used "Whole Biryani masala" in it. Sorry about that. I just added that to the above recipe.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

An All-Weather Feathered friend

This is the first friend who visited me welcoming me to this neighbohood, when we first moved into this apartment. I was so happy to see him. I think it's a he. I call him Mr.Red Bird. He visits me on all weathers - Rain or Shine. I've seen Mr.Red Bird sitting by the balcony on sunniest days, rainiest days and coldest days. I want to welcome him into my house but lo! He flies away at the first sound of the door opening for him... Sometimes he brings his Mrs. too. She looks a lot like him, but with more greys and less of this bright red color. Mr and Mrs. Red Birds are the most wonderful couple I've met so far. They keep teasing one another or chasing one another and it is such a delight to watch them together. Sometimes, they sit side by side, very quietly, soaking in the silence around them. Reminds me of the quote 'True friendship comes when silence between two people is comfortable'. These two are a very camera shy pair. They somehow, always seem to know that a camera is lurking somewhere nearby, ready to click their picture and fly right one second before the camera goes 'click'. Maybe someday, I'll be able to take a picture of them together. Until then, these are the two pictures that will remind of these wonderful birds that visit me often.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Pilates to go!

I love working out. It gives me such a high and makes me feel good. Scientists say that it must be all the endophins released. But I don't really care. I feel happy at the end of a work out. And I become more healthier, stronger and more confident. And I look good. Do I need anymore reasons?

But I've been slacking for past few months... Call it laziness with a big L! Once in a while, I get all motivated and bring out one of my fitness DVDs and do it for an hour.. and then forget about it the very next day... Ever since I started writing in this blog, since this journal is all about making tomorrow better, healthier, wealthier, wiser and more peaceful, I've been thinking about getting back on my exercise routine too. For past two weeks, I've been doing Pilates at home, by following a DVD.. So far, 4 days of exercise per week has been the norm. From the coming week onwards, I'm gearing towards 5 workouts every week. Since I seem to be on a Pilates phase, these are two DVDs I've been working out. - Jennifer Kries Pilates Perfect Mix - Great for toning all over. I am becoming aware of muscles I never thought I had. I like the second workout metabolic booster. I like to workout for a solid 40 mins, so I do the Metabolic Booster routine twice. Shelly Mcdonald's Caribean Workout - Pilates is almost a beginner or an Advanced beginner's Pilates workout. but I find it wonderful for toning abs.