Perfecting the legendary Kolkata Biryani at home
The potato in Kolkata Biryani is my favourite part of the dish. In this Awadhi style of cooking, the dum pukht technique allows the the aromatic juices from the mutton to ooze into the fine grains of rice.
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It’s certainly true in my case, but if I were to be specific about the kind of food, it would be Biryani and Mughlai food. Not any Biryani, but the Awadhi/Lucknowy style Mutton Biryani that we grew up eating in Kolkata. The Bearded Biker’s love for Awadhi Biryani made us hop into Lucknow for an evening, only to eat. His Biryani love has now been transmitted to the Z-sisters and myself too in a big way… so much so that Big Z wanted us to take the first flight out to Lucknow, once her GCSEs got over!
If I may coyly declare, I think have perfected the art of cooking the Biryani in the style of Shiraz Golden Restaurant. To celebrate the Bearded Biker’s birthday, we had a chef who used to work in Shiraz Golden Restaurant, come home and cook. The menu was as per his liking – Mutton Biryani, Chicken Chaanp, Galawati Kababs and Lachha Parathas. While the chef cooked everything at home, we ordered the Lachha Parathas from Arsalan (located in Karama), another popular Mughlai restaurant from Kolkata. I learnt from the chef as he cooked, while noting down every single ingredient and technique that went into making each dish. This was a Pakki Biryani where the rice and meat are semi cooked separately and then arranged in layers in a pot and cooked in the Dum Pukht style. As I had expected from Mughlai cooking, the process was elaborate and time consuming. But if you are a keen cook, making the Kolkata Biryani at home would be quite engaging and stimulating. Before this Biryani hangover is over, I promise you that homemade Lachha Parathas and Galawatis are coming your way!
Kolkata Biryani can spark a huge debate – who serves the best Biryani in Kolkata? Did the addition of aloo, potato in the Awadhi Biryani downgrade its status? The Nawabs were known for their culinary indulgence and some argue that they certainly wouldn’t have approved of the humble aloo and attribute it to the financial difficulties of the Nawab in his later years. However, the great-great-grandson of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (Kolkata’s Mughlai food heritage is attributed to the Nawab), thinks otherwise. As this article indicate, in those days potatoes were considered exotic and addition of potatoes in the Biryani was a result of one of the many kitchen experiments that the Nawab indulged in. The addition of aloo was approved heartily by the Nawab and has since then become Kolkata Biryani’s culinary heritage.
Royal Indian Restaurant in Kolkata (set up as early as in 1905) always considered aloo in the Biryani, a culinary blasphemy. I remember meeting Gulam Nabi, the head chef of Royal, a descendent of the direct lineage of the khansama of Wajid Ali Shah in my Ramadan food trail with Kolkata Walks. I was told that ‘Royal would die out rather than introduce aloo and deem in their Biryani. A total no no!’. Well, it seems that Royal too had to succumb to the Bengalis’ love for aloo… and introduced the versatile ingredient in their legendary Biryani for the first time when they opened a branch in Park Circus in 2015.
Although the Awadhi cuisine has travelled far and wide, nowhere has it settled down strongly as it has in Kolkata. Mohammed Wajid Ali Shah Bahadur (1822 AD-1887 AD), the Nawab of the princely Indian state of Awadh or Oudh (which is modern day Lucknow), was a well-known food aficionado. Kolkata Biryani is cooked in the Dum Pukht style, where the meat, rice or vegetables are covered and sealed in a copper or an earthen pot with a dough of flour. Everything is then let to cook in its own juices on a very slow flame. This Dum Pukht style of cooking can be traced to the Nawabi kitchens of Awadh. Exotic nuts, herbs and aphrodisiacs went into the Dum Pukht meals that were cooked for the Nawabs.
In 1857 AD, when the Awadh kingdom was annexed by the British, Nawab Mohammed Wajid Ali Shah Bahadur was exiled to Calcutta (today’s Kolkata). His passion for gourmet food travelled from Lucknow to Kolkata and was nurtured, garnished and fuelled by his special Bawarchis – the Chefs of the Nawab. It is believed that only a handful of chefs with royal khansama or lineage knew the secrets to the authentic Awadhi Cuisine. Each Mughlai restaurant in Kolkata today, however, claims to have one such gem working in their kitchen. While the meat to rice ratio in their Biryani varies, so does the secret ingredients that go into making their Biryani special and unique!
Our Biryani nostalgia mostly centres around Shiraz Golden restaurant in Park Circus. The budget for our parties during my college days would allow a packet of Special Mutton Biryani (special would mean an egg in the Biryani), a plate of Chicken Chaanp and a Firni for each person. The menu was always the same – budget was limited but our love for Biryani was unlimited.
Serving the Biryani is an art too. In the restaurant, the Biryani is scooped along the sides of the pan with a quarter plate, digging deep into the bottom layer and bringing up pieces of mutton and aloo with the fragrant Biryani rice. The Biryani rice sporadically erupts into the yellow and white rice, much like fine poetry.
The potato in Kolkata Biryani is my favourite part of the dish. In this Awadhi style of cooking, the dum pukht technique allows the the aromatic juices from the mutton to ooze into the fine grains of rice. Needless to say, it has to be Mutton Biryani and it has to be special… meaning there has to be a stark white egg staring back at me!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
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Dessert recipes that will complement your Biryani: Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding Firni or Ferni - The broken rice pudding
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4 cups basmati rice, extra-long grained ones (I use the sella basmati, a parboiled variety used to make Biryani in specialised restaurants) Whole spices 2 tsp white pepper, powdered 100 ml rose water For marination of mutton *Biryani masala 3 cups flour to make the dough for the dum For garnish For the Mutton For the Rice Layering of the Biryani
2 kg mutton (10 pieces/kg of meat with bones, as that leave a unique flavour than the boneless ones)
6 medium sized onions, sliced thinly
8 big potatoes cut into halves
8 eggs, hardboiled and deshelled
6 star anise
4 pieces 1-inch cinnamon sticks
6 black cardamoms
2 tbsp ginger-garlic powder
4 tbsp special homemade Biryani masala*
100 ml kewra water
½ cup alu bukhara or prunes, dried
2 cups white oil
500 gms ghee
salt – to taste
2 tsp sugar
½ cup milk
1 tsp saffron
2 tsp yellow food colouring (This is optional. You may use saffron soaked in milk)
1 tsp Meetha attar or Biryani flavouring
500 gms yoghurt
4 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
4 tsp red chilli powder
½ papaya, finely grated
½ cup cashews, grinded into a fine paste
4 tbsp Biryani masala*
For 100 gms of Biryani masala, grind together the following:
30gms javitri or mace
30gms cinnamon powder
5 gms chhoti elaichi or green cardamom
25 gms gulab patti or rose petals, dried and crushed
5 gms jaiphal or nutmeg
5 gms cloves
1 muslin cloth (optional)
Dried fruits like cashews and raisins, pan-roasted in slight ghee (this is optional. However, I avoid any garnishing with dried fruits as the Bearded Biker isn’t too fond of it and feels it likens his Biryani into a Pulao)
The chef was very adamant that the Biryani had to be served it with a simple light raita made with yoghurt, grated cucumber, carrots and a pinch of salt. Keep the focus on the Biryani and open the seal just before serving. Don’t forget to add the plain boiled eggs.
4 cups basmati rice, extra-long grained ones (I use the sella basmati, a parboiled variety used to make Biryani in specialised restaurants)
2 tsp white pepper, powdered
100 ml rose water
For marination of mutton
3 cups flour to make the dough for the dum
For the Mutton
For the Rice
Layering of the Biryani
This Biryani looks devine!!!
Thank you Shailaja! It’s been so long… hope you are keeping well and cooking! Well, it’s a Biryani that’s really close to my heart and it has been tried and tested many times over time. Do give the recipe a try and let me know how you like the taste. Kolkata Biryani has a very distinctive flavour. For us, if it’s a Biryani, it has to be Awadhi style and much like how this restaurant in Kolkata prepares it. Much love 🙂
Anindya Sundar Basu
Welcome back to the vintage art of Blogging and we look forward to read more from you. The entire Lockdown, it was almost everyday I wanted to have Biryani and much to my dismay, Madhushree went on rejecting it. – Shei abar Biryani ? This post makes me to order one now. Its Friday here, a Sunday there and I think I will succumb to the Biryani now.
Thank you Anindyo for leaving a comment too.. isn’t that part of a classical blogversation too? I would have loved to have sent you home cooked Biryani if i was there… provided Madhushree approved! After all, home ministry approval is the most important approval… lockdown or no lockdown! Just curios, where would you order your Biryani from?