South African Chicken Biryani

Recipe from What's For Lunch, Honey?   

Recipe adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible)

For 8 portions


Marinating the chicken 

300g onions, cut into rings, then deep fried until brown and crispy
1.5 kg chicken, de-skinned and cut into pieces
350 ml thick natural yogurt, whisked
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
6 garlic cloves, mashed
1 teaspoon saffron strands
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoon paprika powder
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 medium stick cinnamon
8 cloves
6 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon salt
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon peanut oil

For the biryani

100g sabut masoor dal(whole red lentils), I used channa dal (gram lentils)
700 ml parboiled Basmati rice, washed
125g fresh or frozen green peas
4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
6 tablespoons peanut oil
1 medium stick cinnamon
5 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
30g butter, cut into pieces


Wrap the saffron strands in aluminum foil and using a rolling pin gently crush them. Place crushed saffron in a bowl or cup and pour 250 ml hot water over the crushed saffron, cover a let rest for 1 hour.

Coarsely chop the fried onion rings and place in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients for the marinade, except for the chicken pieces. With a wooden spoon mix well, then add half of the saffron water. Mix again to incorporate the mixture. Store the remaining saffron water in the fridge.

Reserve approx. 120 ml or the marinade mixture, placing in the fridge for it to remain cool.

 Add the chicken pieces to the marinade in the bowl and coat all the pieces well. Cover and marinate for 4 - 24 hours.

When you are ready to prepare the dish, take chicken about an hour before use to bring to room temperature.

Cook the sabut masoor dal in a large casserole with 750 ml water until boiling. Place the lid, leaving a slit open and simmer for 25 minutes. When soft, drain.

Steam the peas for 1-2 minutes, then place in a bowl of cold water to retain the color. Drain.

Toss the potato pieces with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 turmeric powder until completely coated.

In a large skillet heat oil and on medium heat sauté potatoes on all sides until golden. Remove potatoes with slotted spoon, reserving the oil.

Bring 5 liters of water with cinnamon stick, cardamom and cumin seeds to a boil. Add 4 teaspoons salt and the rice, carefully stir with a wooden spoon and bring to a boil. Cook for 13 minutes then drain.

Take away about 350 ml cooked rice and mix with the reserved marinade.

Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees C. In a large casserole, that will fit in your oven, add the reserved oil (from the potatoes), a third of the cooked lentils and a third of the peas.

Spread out all the chicken, including the marinade, over the peas and lentils. Distribute the remaining peas and lentils over the chicken. Push the potato wedges in between the chicken, lentils and peas.

Layer the spiced rice (in the marinade) and the pure rice, then finally spread the butter pieces over the top.

Drizzle the reserved saffron water down the sides and over the top of the biryani. Cover the casserole with heavy duty aluminum foil, then with the lid. On medium to high heat, bring the biryani to a high cooking temperature. As soon as steam begins to escape from the foil, put the casserole in the oven and gently roast for 1 1/2 hours.

To serve: Using a skimmer carefully take out a portion of the biryani out of the casserole and serve on pre-heated plates or platter. Do not mix.