Chicken Biryani

This South Asian dish is perhaps one of the world's most elegant rice dishes, and is perfect for a dinner party or celebration meal.

Active Time:
1 hrs 30 mins
Rest Time:
3 hrs
Total Time:
5 hrs
6 servings

This classic chicken biryani features partially cooked rice layered with spicy chunks of chicken, with saffron-infused milk poured over the top. The pot is then sealed and the dish bakes slowly in the oven. If you want the biryani to remain tricolored — white, saffron and brown — do not mix the rice until you are ready to serve. In a warm place, a covered pot of biryani will keep its heat for a good hour.


  • 2 teaspoons saffron threads

  • 3 tablespoons hot milk

  • 3 cups basmati rice

  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

  • 1 (2-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

  • 5 garlic cloves

  • 2 cups whole milk plain yogurt

  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint

  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

  • 1 to 2 fresh green chiles, thinly sliced

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 3 medium white or yellow onions

  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds

  • 1/4 cup golden raisins

  • 4 cinnamon sticks

  • 12 cardamom pods

  • 10 whole cloves

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 teaspoon black cumin seeds (or 1/2 teaspoon regular cumin seeds)

  • 6 chicken drumsticks, skin removed

  • 6 chicken thighs, skin removed

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, quartered


  1. Place a small cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When pan is hot, add saffron and stir until threads turn a few shades darker, about 1 minute. Pour hot milk into a small cup and crumble saffron threads into milk. Set aside for 3 hours.

  2. Meanwhile, place rice in a large pot and wash in several changes of cold water, until water is clear. Add enough water to cover rice by 2 inches. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt, mix into rice, and set aside to soak for at least 3 hours.

  3. Combine ginger, garlic, and 1 tablespoon water in a blender. Blend on low speed, scraping down the sides a few times, until a fine paste forms, about 2 minutes.

  4. Beat yogurt in a bowl lightly until smooth. Stir in mint, coriander, and chiles.

  5. Thinly slice 2 of the onions, and finely chop the remaining onion. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Heat oil in a large, straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced onions and fry, stirring once or twice, until deep reddish brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to paper towel-line baking sheet to drain. Reduce heat to medium. Add almonds to skillet and fry, stirring, until golden, about 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Add raisins to skillet; they will plump up immediately. Quickly transfer to paper towels to drain.

  6. Add 2 cinnamon sticks, 6 cardamom pods, 5 cloves and 1 bay leaf to skillet. Stir once and add cumin seeds. Stir once and add chopped onion. Increase heat to moderately high and fry until onion is browned at edges, about 1 minute. Add ginger-garlic paste and fry 1 minute. Add chicken pieces and fry 1 minute. Add half of the yogurt mixture, half of the fried almonds and raisins, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and lemon juice, ground cumin, and cayenne.

  7. Stir 1/4 cup water into skillet and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover skillet and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Uncover skillet and add half of the fried onions. lncrease heat to moderate and cook, stirring frequently, until sauce is dark and thickened and chicken is just tender, about 5 minutes. Add black pepper and salt. Transfer chicken and sauce to a large ovenproof Dutch oven. (Biryani can be prepared to this point up to 6 hours ahead.)

  8. Preheat oven to 375°F. Stir 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 2 teaspoons of the reserved saffron milk into remaining yogurt. Spoon saffron mixture over chicken.

  9. Bring 10 cups of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add remaining 2 tablespoons salt, 2 cinnamon sticks, 6 cardamom pods, 5 cloves and bay leaf to pot. Drain rice and slowly pour into pot. When water returns to a rapid boil, cook rice until just tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain quickly, leaving spices.

  10. Pour rice over chicken in a heap, making a small mound. Working quickly, use a chopstick or a long spoon to make a well in center of the rice all the way down to the bottom of the pot. Drizzle the remaining saffron milk on the sides of the mound. Place a clean, damp dish towel over rice and cover Dutch oven tightly, first with a piece of foil and then with a lid. Bake 35 minutes. To serve, stir biryani gently with a slotted spoon to mix and spoon onto a warmed platter. Garnish with remaining fried onions, almonds, raisins, and hard-cooked eggs.

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