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Spice Voyager Recipe #1 for Biryani Lovers

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

This old Jaipuri family recipe for mouth-watering Chicken Biryani is dedicated to the little NUTMEG, the world's costliest spice in C.17th Europe.

Presented with all the racy rollicking of a high seas adventure by Giles Milton here at the Jaipur Literary Festival, his book "Nathaniel's Nutmeg : The Spice Trader Who Changed the World" will make a great dinner table tale!

Nutmeg is an essential flavouring for Biryani. Perhaps no other food provokes the outpouring of emotion more than Biryani: "Biriyani..!!! The single word is enough to bring water in the mouth of all foodlovers", says one, whilst others create veritable odes and poetry to this divine melange of aromatic flavours suffused through rice and steamed to perfection - both with and without meat.

I have however, been served perfectly inedible biryani - I hesitate to abuse the term by even referring to these plates of gluggy rice, luridly yellow with excessive haldi (turmeric) - sometimes served at roadside cafes on busy Rajasthani highways. But I should have known better - Biryani is a dish of nuanced flavours and takes time to prepare well.

I had the pleasure to spend some days recently with a wonderful family in Jaipur, and feel very confident that I could now create this delicious Jaipuri Biryani with the subtle aromatics and hint of heat that Nahid and I prepared yesterday. I'm sure you can too!


WHAT YOU WILL NEED to keep 6 hungry people satisfied


* Best basmati rice - 1kg - soak in cold water for 3-4 hours. Put this into a bowl.

* Water - you will need twice this above quantity of water by volume

* Fresh chicken, skin off, chopped up into generous chunks with bone - 1.5 kg

* Red onions - 4 small, finely chopped

* Red tomatoes - 2 small, roughly chopped

* Green chillies - 2 medium whole and chopped

* Paste made of equal quantities of ginger and garlic - keep stored in a jar in 'fridge

* Yoghurt - plain, 4 dessertspoons, stirred to smooth paste

* Cinnamon stick - 5cm

* Bay leaves - 4 medium sized, not crushed

* Black peppercorns - 1 dessert spoon

* Cardamon pods - 4

* Cloves - whole - 8-12 depending on size

* Black Cumin seeds - 3 level teaspoons

* White Cumin seeds - 1.5 level teaspoon

* Coriander seeds whole - 6 level teaspoons

* Anise seeds - 1.5 level teaspoons

* Sesame Oil (for winter health) or Peanut oil in the summer

PART B grind these aromatics and in a mortar and pestle

* Mace - whole (it is the stringy red covering of the nutmeg) - 1 and half

* Nutmeg - whole - 1

* Cinnamon stick - 2.5 cm or 1 inch

* Cardamon pods - 6

* plus later addition : 'Pink City Biryani Spice mix or any good

commercial mix - 1 .5 teaspoon


* 6 strands of saffron soaked in 50 ml of milk


* 1 small onion finely sliced

* ghee or clarified butter, half cup melted


STEP 1 Cook Spices & Meat

Heat a teacup of oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and throw in all of the spices in PART A of the ingredients with the onions and stir constantly until golden brown. Add the garlic/ginger paste, cook quickly, then stir in the tomatoes and chillies and continue to cook over a high heat stirring constantly.

Add the yoghurt, followed by the chicken pieces. Turn heat to low and add rock salt and brown the meat stirring often.


STEP 2 Aromatic Masala

Place the mace, nutmeg, cardamom pods and cinnamon pieces in a mortar and pestle and work into a fine powdery mix. It is best prepared just prior to use.

View my video to see how that works.


STEP 3 Add the Rice

Now add to the saucepan the hot water, turn up heat, then add the soaked rice, squeezing out excess water.

Add the aromatic masala mix, plus an extra couple of teaspoons of salt, and the commercial biryani spice mix which has a little chilli to add extra heat.

Stir well with a wide paddle so as not to break the rice grains.

Cook on high heat for 10-15 minutes, covering the pot with a lid.


STEP 4 Cooking the Rice to Perfection - a critical stage!

After 10 minutes check if you can still hear bubbling. If steam is still escaping from the covered saucepan, there is still water - and it is too soon to lift the lid.

The rice is ready for the next step when you lift the lid and small steam holes have appeared on the top of the rice, there is no visible liquid, and you can't hear any bubbling at the base of the saucepan. The surface of the rice should be quite dry.



STEP 5 Add Saffron Milk

Take the saffron-infused milk and spoon it over the surface of the rice without mixing or disturbing the surface.

Cover with alfoil and place the saucepan cover over to form a tight seal - this is what is referred to as a 'dum biryani', and traditionally is sealed with a dough mixture encased around the saucepan/lid interface to form an air-tight seal.

Turn the heat to very low and cook for a further 20 minutes.



STEP 6 The Final Garnish

Whilst the rice is cooking, prepare the final flourish, by heating the ghee and browning the finely-chopped red onion to a deep colour.

This is then poured over

the surface of the rice once the 20 minutes steaming is completed.

Just lift open the alfoil a little, put the buttery mixture over and re-seal and stand over very low heat for a final 10 minutes.

DO NOT STIR as you pour into rice



As you pile the biryani onto plates, you'll see why it is important not to stir in the later stages, as the saffron stains the rice inside the steam holes only, creating this lovely variegated colour - not to mention the flavour.

You can serve this with a plate of sliced sweet red tomatoes, and finely-sliced red onions ... it is already a complete meal and really needs little else.

Traditionally this biryani is finished by serving a peppery pappadam.


There are many types of Biryani, and this one is representative of a more robust style cooked in Rajasthan.

If you're looking for grower-direct spices delivered directly to you, you might like to meet Mr Chandran at True Ceylon Spices, who is absolutely passionate about spices.

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