The biryani is one of the most iconic of Indian dishes. Unsurprising, really, since its key ingredient is the grain that forms the staple food of the country – the grain that endless exotic dishes and recipes are based upon: rice.
It is commonly thought that the biryani was brought to the northern states when the mighty Mughals came to power. The biryani, notoriously tricky to make, is one of the Mughal’s culinary legacies and now the many different versions of this delectable dish experience great popularity throughout India.
A biryani takes time to perfect – it isn’t just a recipe that can be whipped up in a few minutes. The ingredients need to be prepared separately and layered carefully; then the dish is sealed and left to slow cook to perfection.
However, this is not to say there is just one tried and tested method of cooking a deliciously aromatic biryani. The four corners of India have experimented with this traditional recipe to great success. The northern states stuck to the roots of the dish, layering rice with succulent meat and a rich variety of spices. The southern states, inhabited by vegetarian communities, set about perfecting a wide range of biryanis suitable for their dietary requirements – Hyderabad itself boasts 40 mouth-watering versions.
The Muslims of the western states have kept a collection of biryanis alive, with different variations cropping up according to the availability of ingredients in each diverse state. The Bengali biryanis of the east feature an abundance of fish, prawns and crab thanks to the proximity to the coast and the freshwater rivers that criss-cross the region.
You are almost guaranteed to find a biryani or a biryani-inspired dish on the menus of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants – here are five of our favourites:
Mention Hyderabadi cuisine and the biryani is sure to be mentioned. Although each cook may have their own particular tweak to the classic recipe, you can expect a Hyderabadi version to utilise rice mixed with saffron for a burst of colour and flavour. Coconut, a favourite ingredient of the southern states, is also used to great effect in this dish.
This version of the humble biryani is particularly filling – a wholesome bowl of comfort food. Spiced chunks of potato are the trademark of a Bombay biryani, whether the recipe is vegetarian or non-vegetarian.
The Bengali version of the dish is heavily spiced, particularly with warming notes of nutmeg. The flavoursome syrup, kewra, adds a distinctive aroma to this biryani and the addition of plenty of ghee makes for a luxurious texture.
Lucknowi cuisine makes full use of the famous slow cooking technique known as dum cooking. Ingredients are partly cooked before being layered, sealed and left to stew in their own juices. As a result, the meat is tender and falling off the bone whilst the rice and any other ingredients are richly infused with flavour.
A recipe originating from the coastal regions of Karnataka, this biryani operates under the less-is-more approach to spices, preferring instead to flavour the dish with plenty of chopped onions and green chillies. Meat is often marinated in yoghurt for this dish, creating a deliciously creamy, decadent texture.