Monday, January 23, 2012

Achieving Fugue-state with Keema Biryani

The other day I had a true Manic Monday. It was the revenge of the household goods and the end result was that I was glued to my phone all day, kept on hold by various customer service numbers in quick succession. I was late to work, crabby, irritable and stressed. Suddenly all those little things that needed looking into and kept being pushed under the carpet, came right out and danced in front of my eyes. Sorting out inane stuff like getting a new water purifier fixed, getting the car serviced, renewing the insurance, etc all seemed insurmountable! I was convinced that I would never get around to doing these jobs in time and they would come back and bite us in the @$$...

By the time I was on my way home from work, again glued to my cell phone, waiting for yet another customer service agent to respond to my complaint, I was in a fugue state. That’s what happens to me sometimes, when I have worried myself into a state of stress that is beyond normal (and usually totally unnecessary). So as I stared out of my car window, phone to ear, and mind completely fugue-d out, all I could think of was Biryani! Yes, don’t ask me why :/ But since you ask anyway, that too happens to me when I’m stressed out... Food thoughts kicking in to stop me from getting suicidal :D

Anyway, the Biryani came and stayed in my head till I reached home. And helped me maintain my sanity. Coz when you are busy drooling inside your head, you do kinda forget to shout at the customer service guy who is being of no help. But I don’t think I’m the only one here - Biryani is something everyone loves! And everyone has their own favoured version of it too. Some like it with potatoes, some like it spicy with lots of masala, some cook the meat and the rice separately and then there are all those “authentic” Biryanis – Lucknowi, Hyderabadi, Bengali...

Both Sid and I personally prefer the Hyderabadi Biryani and hate most other versions passionately. I dislike excessive saffron; don’t like jeera, tomato, or coriander in Biryanis; and cannot stand the Biryanis we get here in Mumbai. Lucky’s being the only exception which is not Hyderabadi and yet yummy in its own way.

So after a lot of research and experimenting, I had finally figured out the recipe for the perfect Hyderabadi Biryani just the way we like it. And trust me, it was no mean job to please the hubster who is as Hyderabadi by birth as anyone when it comes to this dish. Here is another version – Chicken Keema Biryani - a mix of my earlier recipe and this Pakistani recipe I came across on the net. You can make it with mutton or beef mince too as long as you give it some more time to cook I guess.
 Try it whether you are stressed or not. It works two ways – can induce happy Zen-like fugue state when you are already calm, or can take you into a zone of “I-don’t-care-what-happens-next-as-long-as-I-have-this-Biryani” fugue state where you just blank out all the stress... momentarily at least :D


·         Basmati Rice – 3 cups
·         Minced Chicken/Keema – 500gms
·         Onion (sliced thinly) - 1 large
·         Cinnamon Stick - 1" piece
·         Bay leaf - 2
·         Cardamom Pods - 4
·         Cloves - 4
·         Saffron – a pinch
·         Milk – 1 small cup
·         Coconut Milk – ¼th cup
·         Clarified Butter/Ghee – 100gms

For the marinade:
·         Salt – to taste
·         Red Chilli Powder – to taste
·         3 tbsp. of curd/yoghurt
·         Ginger-Garlic paste – 2 tsp
·         Lemon juice – 1 tsp

First marinate the minced chicken for an hour in the curd, salt, chilli powder, ginger-garlic paste and lemon juice. Next wash the rice well and soak in water for about half an hour if needed. Cook the rice in salted water on a stovetop until it is half done. Drain out the water and set aside. 

Now take about a tablespoon of ghee and fry the finely sliced onions in a pan till they turn golden brown and crisp. Remove and set aside. 

 Heat the remaining ghee in a big, wide-mouthed non-stick vessel. Add the bay leaves and whole spices and allow to splutter. Mix in the marinated keema and keep cooking for about 10 minutes until the meat turns soft and is almost cooked. Turn off the flame and remove the cooked keema into another vessel. Meanwhile, mix the saffron in a small cup milk and set aside. Mix this in with 2 large fistfuls of the half cooked rice and reserve. This saffron rice should ideally be a lovely yellowish-orange colour.

Now comes the layering – the most important part of making a Biryani according to me! Take a fourth of the half-cooked Basmati rice and layer it at the bottom of the big non-stick vessel. Cover with a portion of the prepared keema, sprinkle the fried onions, pour a little coconut milk, and lastly, add the saffron-flavoured and coloured rice. Repeat the whole process again - another portion of rice on top, then the keema, the fried onion slices, coconut milk and the saffron rice. Keep repeating till the entire rice, keema and all the other layering components have made their way into the vessel. The top most layer should be the fried onions and saffron rice. 

(OPTIONAL – You can also mix in some red and green food colouring with the saffron rice to get that restaurant style colour into your dish. )

Now ensure that the non-stick vessel has a well-fitting lid. Seal this lid further with a thick cloth or kitchen towel that has been soaked in water, wrung and twisted around the rim to ensure that no steam escapes from anywhere.

Transfer this vessel onto the stove top and cook on a low flame for half an hour. Make sure you move the vessel around and give it a gentle shake every 10min so that the rice at the bottom layer doesn’t start sticking or getting burnt!

When it’s done, remove from flame and take off the lid just before serving so that the aromatic steam that rises from the sealed vessel wows everyone at the table :)

The way I like it:
Most people prefer Biryani of any kind with Raita. But I love my Biryani with traditional Hyderabadi Mirchi ka Salan. But that recipe will have to wait for another day... Till then, enjoy it with curd, raita, kurma, raw onion slices with some lime squeezed on top, or just by itself!