Clive's Chalu Biriyani...

This post has nothing to do with the stated purpose of this blog. It is a recipe for my sons and for other people like us, who loathe cooking, but not enough to live off takeaways or toast. I have written down variations of this recipe more times than I would like to remember, but the boys 'lose' it every time, so I am putting it in a spot where it cannot be lost - this blog.

For my sons, biriyani is a probably associated with Sunday lunch in the way that other Australians associate Sunday lunch with a roast. If  prepared in the 'traditional' way it is delicious and time consuming. After a week of full-time work and a weekend of full-time housekeeping, I have neither the time nor energy to go down the traditional path. So, I rely on my trusty 'Chalu biriyani' recipe inherited from my brother Clive...
Incidentally, according to the, 'chalu' is a word Indian people use to indicate (among other things, something or someone that is "up to no good"), That's exactly what our version of the biriyani recipe does. It takes the idea of a  traditional recipe and stands it on it's head, just enough to make it true to its essence and origins but also enough to make it accessible for everyday home cooking in a contemporary kitchen, well sort - of. It is still time-consuming. Exceedingly so. But then, every thing of worth, takes time...


A purported history of biriyani can be found on a website called, which suggests that the the word 'biriyani' is derived from a Persian (Farsi) word 'biriyan' which means "fried before cooking". It is thought that the dish originated in the Middle East and was brought to India, either by Muslim conquerors via Afghanistan or by Arab traders via the Arabian Sea. Variations of the dish began to arise in different Muslim strongholds in India, during the 19th century. These included Awadhi Biriyani (from Lucknow); Calcutta Biriyani, Hyderabadi Biriyani, Arcot Biriyani, Calicut biriyani, Madras Biriyani, Bombay Biriyani and even an Anglo Indian version from Thalassery in South India. In these incarnations it became a dish for Nawabs and Nizams (royalty and the ruling class) and also the general populace, though there are also anecdotes that it came into existence when nomads buried pots of meat, rice and spices in a pit and then dug up the cooked result. Yet another legend holds that Mumtaz Mahal, the lady whose memory is immortalized in the Taj Mahal), concocted the dish to feed the Moghul army.

The cooking method, gives the dish its special flavor. For instance, frying the rice in ghee (clarified butter) gives the rice a nutty flavor by burning the and gelatinizing the starchy outer coat of the rice. After stir-frying the rice, it is par-boiled with spices. Traditionally, a key ingredient in the dish is "mutton" (Telengana goat meat marinated in a paste of papaya, creamy yogurt and a variety of spices including cardamom, mace and cinnamon among others). The rice and meat is layered into an earthen pot called a 'handi' along with lashings of spices and rose water. The pot is sealed with dough and allowed to slow cook between coal embers (which are heaped on the top and bottom). The seal is broken only after the dish is ready to serve.

Over time, variations of the dish have evolved to include chicken, beef, fish, prawns, cauliflower, carrots, peas, capsicums, beans, jackfruit, bottle gourd, potatoes, fried onions, dried fruit and chick peas. It is a dish that few people who were born in India, or who have lived there for a considerable period of time are unfamiliar with.

Though our family flirted with variations of the recipe over many generations, when we wanted the 'real deal' we used to engage the services of a Muslim lady who specialized in preparing the dish. She would hand the family a list of ingredients that had to be ready and waiting when she stepped into the kitchen. Then she would bolt the door and cook away for a few hours after which she would invite us in and unseal the dish with a flourish. Family servants swore that they had "happened to peer through the kitchen window" and see her open a secret stash of ingredients tied into the folds of her sari, but she always denied that. Try as we may, we could never reproduce the same flavor and texture of her biriyani, no matter how many variations of the method we tried. The only conclusion was that the servants were right. If she did bring in a special ingredient - her trade secret which will remain forever unknown...

What follows is a variation of a version which has been passed through generations of our family. So boys, here you go:

Ingredients/Shopping list

600 gm lamb, beef or boneless, skinless chicken pieces 
500 gm yoghurt (Greek variety if you are buying it - though I prefer to do the Indian thing and make it at home)
15 cloves
5 cardamoms (cut to expose the seeds)
2 inch pieces of cinnamon
4 star anise 
2 tsp cumin seeds
4 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
A few strands of saffron (gives a great flavour but can be omitted)
1 inch ginger (root) 
6 pods of garlic 
4 onions
8 potatoes (par boiled)
1 bunch coriander leaves
a few mint leaves
1 cup basmati rice
2 tbspns ghee
olive oil
Rose water
Pink Indian rock salt
iodized salt
1 lime or lemon
Dried fruit  (Any of the following): roasted cashew nuts, almonds, pea nuts, sultanas, raisins, cranberries, dates, pomegranate seeds, pine nuts (though this is not traditional)


(On the day before:)
1. Grate one onion
2. Whiz the ginger and garlic through the stick mixer (wash, peel and cut before you do)
3. Put the cloves, cardamoms (cut to expose the seeds), cinnamon, star anise into the coffee grinder and run for 2 minutes until powdered

4. Measure out the yogurt (use the glass measuring jugs NOT the scales)
5. Wash the meat using a colander. (Wash your hands)
6. Mix all the above in a large glass mixing bowl, then mix in a tsp of "pink Indian rock salt". Cover with cling and refrigerate.

7. Measure out the rice and wash three times. Soak in cold water. Leave overnight
8. Put the potatoes into the pressure cooker with 3 cups of water (use the trivet - ie "the round thing with holes" at the bottom). Set the gas mark to high. When the cooker starts to emit a steady stream of steam, put the whistle/knob on (use the oven gloves or pot-holders else you will scald your hands). Reduce the gas- mark to low and let cook for 10 minutes then turn off the gas and allow the pressure cooker to cool (the potatoes will continue to cook, so do not be tempted to cool it under a tap)
8. Put the cumin, coriander seeds and turmeric into the coffee grinder and grind to a powder. Store the powder in a clean dry tin or bottle.
9. Wash out the pressure cooker and dry it.

(On the big day - at the end of which I expect to be served a generous helping of succulent biriyani)
1. Read through the recipe below before you start.
2. Slice all the remaining onions - use the food processor for that (else you will complain that your eyes sting and yes you have to clean, dry and re-assemble it after you have finished - no that part is NOT negotiable).
3. Peel and quarter the par-boiled potatoes (if they are over-cooked and mashy never mind, just keep going). Put them into a bowl along with the ground powder of cumin seed, coriander seed and turmeric. Also add a tsp of "pink Indian rock salt". 

4. Put 2 tbsps olive oil into a large pan let it heat a bit, add the cumin-coriander-turmeric powder. When it is fragrant add the potatoes and fry a bit (say 3 minutes). Keep aside
 5. Put the rice into a glass bowl, add 3 cups of water, 1/2 tsp of iodized salt and cook in the microwave for 14 minutes. Leave in the microwave until cooled

6. Put 3 tbspns of olive oil into the pressure cooker, (gas-mark high) when hot, add the sliced onions and fry until brown (not black) This takes a while. Sorry but you cannot use your phone, tablet, laptop, check the cricket/footy scores or contact your mates etc while cooking even if it is terminally boring. If you "forget" the smoke alarm will go off and I will hear about it from the neighbors - and I don't think you want to go there. Now back to the recipe.... When the onions are brown remove 2/3rd of them and set them aside for the garnish. Now add the meat and yogurt mix to the pressure cooker and let it bubble away, turning a bit, for about 5 minutes. Cover the pressure cooker and when it steams, add on the whistle/knob (remember to use the gloves/pot holders) and set the timer for 15 minutes. Lower the gas mark to low.
7. Now use another frying pan. Add 1 tbsp oil, and all the dried fruit. Count 1 minute. Turn off the fire (the purpose of this is to let the fruit start to caramelize but NOT burn).
8. Set the table or wash up - your choice, but remember you have to do BOTH - again, this is NOT negotiable
9. The timer should go off. Turn off the pressure cooker and allow it to cool for 10 minutes.
10. You now need a LARGE glass casserole with a cover. When you are ready, arrange the meat, rice and potato containers around it and spoon in layers of meat, rice and potatoes until the dish is filled. sprinkle  3 tsp of rose water over the dish. Cover and put in the oven (160 degrees Centigrade) for 10 minutes. 
11. Finish washing up or setting the table or both
12. After 10 minutes, get the dish out of the oven (use the oven gloves puh-lease) uncover, sprinkle with the ghee, remaining fried onions and dried fruit
By now your father and I will already be at the table, because the aroma of your home-cooked biriyani will have percolated throughout the house... AND we will be VERY hungry, proud and thankful (in that order).


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