Route 79 : Lamb Biryani

The effects of feeling hungry on the way home


February 29 2004

Lamb Biryani - the easier way

This is yet another great Saturday-night dish - perfect for taking into your living room in a plate - sitting on sofa, plate in one hand - spoon in the other - and tucking in whilst watching a great suspense or action thriller film on the TV. With gorgeously tender pieces of lamb, mildly spiced and coated in fluffy basmati rice - nothing beats this on a cold winter's evening in London!

The problem is that the traditional method of cooking biryani dishes involves a lot of preparation and a lot of hassle "layering" part-cooked rice and meat in an oven-proof tray (or casserole dish) and then sticking in oven etc. Here in the busy Route79 household we just don't have the precious time - and nor do we like the idea of using up half a kitchen's worth of utensils just to make one dish!

So - here is a much easier method - and only involves one stove-top pot and some ingredients that you should definitely find lurking in your cupboards or fridge. All you need is some lamb (or chicken if you like) !!

Here is what you need to make Lamb Biryani for two very generous servings:

* Around 300 grams of leg of lamb - chopped into small pieces.
* The usual chunks of frozen pulped garlic, ginger and chillie from your freezer.
* 2 teaspoons salt.
* 1 teaspoon haldi (turmeric)
* 3 teaspoons garam masala
* 2 teaspoons ground coriander
* 2 teaspoons ground cumin
* 2 dessert spoons of plain natural yoghurt
* A few dshes of vinegar

* 2 medium onions - chopped along the grain - long
* 4 smallish tomatoes - deseeded and chopped relatively finely
* 4 mediumish white mushrooms - chopped finely
* Pinch of cumin seeds
* 3 bay leaves.
* 1 mug of Basmati rice.

You can see that I have split the above ingredients into two parts - and that's because the preparation is done in two parts. First you have to prepare the meat marinade:

Ingredients for the lamb marinade

As I mentioned earlier - you can use chicken instead of lamb if you like - in fact you can use practically anything - turkey chunks, non-flaky fish (e.g. monkfish) - or even vegetables etc. But if you do use lamb - please be sure to use leg of lamb only. This will result in a fabulously tender and tasty bite in the end-product. I know that lamb leg is expensive - but if you go down your High Street butcher you will almost certainly find it a lot cheaper (and fresher) - and if the butcher is an Asian/Indian one then you can also get it deboned, de-fatted and chopped up for you at no extra charge. For example - I went down my local High Street butcher - pointed at my choice of whole lamb leg in the see-through cabinet and asked him for half of it - which he took to a sawing machine and cut up - and then chopped it all up for me. I purchased 1 kilogram - but you only need to use about a third of that for this recipe. (I'm using the rest for something else you see!). I Paid a total of £6.40 for 1 kilo - which I believe is far cheaper than Safeway or Asda.

Anyway - make sure the lamb pieces are chopped small - about the size of a heaped teaspoon each or thereabouts. And now for the action ...

Get a glass bowl. In it put the two dessert-spoons of natural yoghurt. Put in all the spices as per the amounts listed above including a few dashes of vinegar - and then stir it all up. (If you, like me, are using chunks of frozen pulped garlic, ginger and chillie - then be sure to defrost the chunks by zapping then for 20 seconds on high power in the microwave first.)

Then add the lamb pieces and stir it all up so that every piece is coated well. At this point you have two choices: you can either clingfilm the bowl and stick it in the fridge for a couple of hours - or you can proceed straight on to the next stage. I would reccomend marinating for a couple of hours - as this will result in a quicker cook time later - and a more flavourful dish too. But - it is not essential.

Now prepare the rest of the stuff. Slice and cut the onions vertically so you end up with long thin strips. Chop the mushrooms and tomatoes. The latter two things shound be done relatively finely. Also - get your bay leaves and pinch of cumin seeds ready for the stove-top action.

Put about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil into a non-stick pan - on high flame - and throw in the cumin seeds. Wait until they start to splutter - and then add the chopped onions. Lower the flame to medium and fry this for around 10 mins until the onions are browned.

Then add the chopped tomato - immediately followed by the marinated lamb. Turn up the flame at this point to high. Stir it all around.

Then add the mushrooms and the bayleaves. Ensure everything is mixed up.

Basically - you've got to stir-fry it on high heat for around 5 mins. This will allow the garlic and ginger in the marinade to cook properly. You can then lower the flame so that the mixture is simmering - stick the lid on and let it slowly cook for around 20 or 30 minutes. This is the stage at which you have to ensure that the lamb is tender - and that the spice mixture tastes right. Don't be afraid of too much salt at this point - because when the rice is added - the salt will be diluted. Whilst the lamb is cooking - prepare the Basmati rice by washing it in cold water throughly several times. I use the sieve/bowl in the sink under cold running water technique which you can see in the "Vegetable Rice" recipe.

When the lamb is cooked tender - add the washed and drained rice to the pot.

Now add a little water to the pot - NOT the usual twice-the-amount-of-water-as-rice amount - but instead only enough to cover the surface of the rice by just over half a centimetre. Then put the lid on. This will be the last time you see the inside of the pot until it's done! Bring the pot to fierce boil and then immediately transfer to a very-low-flame burner and let it simmer there for around 20 minutes. Whatever you do - DO NOT TAKE THE LID OFF TO SEE HOW IT'S DOING ! Every bit of steam in the pot is needed to work its magic on the rice! Trust me: you will ruin it if you keep taking the lid off. Go make side-salad to keep yourself occupied whilt the rice is cooking!

After around 20 mins - turn off the heat - take off the lid and very quickly give it a gentle stir - juct to check that it's OK - the rice should be puffed up. You can add some fresh coriander leaf at this point - just sprinkle liberally over the top. BUT - do put the lid back on afterwards and let the whole pot sit there for 10 minutes. Don't worry - it will stay hot - but the stir and the resting will ensure that all the rice is fluffed up properly and that the entire pot is uniformly heated.

After that - you're done. Serve into large shallow bowls - and eat immediately!

Have you tried this? Even if you haven't - let me know what you think!
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