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Chicken Biryani

Though some of the fat has been cut from this version of the elaborate rice pilaf called biryani, the saffron–infused milk and the drizzle of melted butter over the top make it a dish fit for Shah Jahan, the creator of the Taj Mahal. the rice is cooked with whole spices, which are not meant to be eaten.

Plus: More Chicken Recipes and Tips

  • Total Time:
  • Servings: 4

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  • 2 tablespoons warm milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 white or green cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 cups basmati rice (3/4 pound)
  • 3 cups water
  • Salt
  • 2 medium onions, 1 finely chopped and 1 thinly sliced
  • 1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Garlic Paste
  • 2 tablespoons Ginger Paste
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely julienned fresh ginger


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a small bowl, combine the warm milk with the saffron; let steep for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, bay leaf and black peppercorns and cook over moderate heat until sizzling, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil, about 1 minute. Add the water and 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat until the rice is tender and the water has been absorbed, about 12 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes, then fluff the rice with a fork. Season with salt.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet. Add the chopped onion and cook over moderate heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato and cook for 1 minute. Add the Garlic Paste, Ginger Paste, garam masala, cayenne, turmeric, cloves, mace, cardamom and cinnamon and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is white throughout, about 12 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Spread half of the rice in a medium enameled cast-iron casserole. Top with the chicken mixture, then cover with the remaining rice. Drizzle the saffron milk over the rice, followed by the melted butter. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Add the sliced onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring once or twice, until browned, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the onion to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle the biryani with the mint, julienned ginger and fried onions and serve.

Make Ahead

The chicken can be cooked and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat gently before assembling the dish.


Garam masala is a spice blend that's available at Indian markets.

Suggested Pairing

A Gewürztraminer will match the aromatic spice and sweetness here.

Photo © Petrina Tinslay Published January 2003

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