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!

Kolkata Mutton Biryani

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!

Shiraz Golden Restaurant style Awadhi Biryani

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.

Kolkata Mutton Biryani

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.

Kolkata Mutton Biryani

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.

Kolkata Mutton Biryani

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!

Homemade Awadhi Biryani

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

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

Kolkata Biryani

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: elaborate
  • Print
Category=rice and meat one-pot dish; Cuisine=Mughlai

basmati rice

Ingredients

4 cups basmati rice, extra-long grained ones (I use the sella basmati, a parboiled variety used to make Biryani in specialised restaurants)
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

Whole spices
6 star anise
4 pieces 1-inch cinnamon sticks
6 black cardamoms

2 tsp white pepper, powdered
2 tbsp ginger-garlic powder
4 tbsp special homemade Biryani masala*

100 ml rose water
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

For marination of mutton
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*

*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

3 cups flour to make the dough for the dum
1 muslin cloth (optional)

For garnish
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)

Method

  • Wash the rice in cold water, drain and spread over newspaper/kitchen towel for 15-20 minutes or until absolutely dry.
  • Marinate the mutton with yoghurt, grated papaya, ginger-garlic paste, red chilli powder, cashew paste and the Biryani masala.
  • Soak the saffron in milk in a bowl. Keep aside.
  • Soak yellow colouring in ½ cup water. Keep aside.
  • Heat ghee in a pan. Add ½ tsp of sugar. Add the sliced onions and fry them till they are golden brown. Set them aside on tissue paper so that the excess oil is absorbed and they turn crispy. Keep aside ¼ of the fried onions for cooking the meat and the rest for using while layering the rice and for garnishing.

For the Mutton

  • In a deep bottomed pan, heat 1 cup of white oil. Add the whole spices. Once the aroma starts drifting out, set them aside and put them in a muslin cloth (this is for those who do not like the whole spices coming into their mouth, while making sure that the aroma is intact.
  • Add fried onions and ginger-garlic, taking care that you don’t burn them.
  • Add the marinated meat, salt and sugar. Cook in high flame for ten minutes until all the spices in the marination gather themselves up.
  • Cover up the meat pieces with enough water. Add the meetha attar, rose water, kewra water and prunes. Let it cook in slow flame until the meat is three-fourth cooked. Try to maintain enough gravy that can be used later while layering of the Biryani.

For the Rice

  • Heat some ghee in a deep bottomed pan. Stir in the rice lightly. Add water till the level of water is more than double the height of the level of rice. Drain off the excess water while the rice is three-fourth cooked.
  • Settle the rice by shaking the pan. Dig in holes into the layer of rice with a back of a spoon. Pour the yellow colouring or saffron soaked milk into the holes.

Layering of the Biryani

  • In the deep bottomed pan (pot or a handi) in which the meat has been cooked, keep the gravy up to the level that covers the meat. Keep aside the rest of the gravy for serving with the Biryani. Layer with a portion of rice and lather generously with ghee. Sprinkle some fried onions and spread some saffron soaked milk and strands of saffron over the layer of rice. Repeat the process of layering twice or until it fills up your pan.
  • Once the layering is done, pour over the remaining of saffron soaked in milk along with a bit of rose water. Add ghee generously around the sides of the pan, so that the Biryani rice doesn’t stick to the pan. Add fried cashew nuts and raisins if you are using them. Sprinkle a bit of Biryani Masala on top.
  • Make a dough with flour and a bit of sugar. Flatten it  and cover the cooking vessel. Seal the top of the vessel with this dough.
  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Place the Biryani pan in the oven and let it cook for 10 minutes.
  • If you aren’t using an oven, cook this over a stove top over a slow flame and cook for 15 minutes.
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.

Kolkata Mutton Biryani

5 Comments on “Perfecting the legendary Kolkata Biryani at home

    • 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 🙂

  1. Pingback: Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding to celebrate Eid – IshitaUnblogged

  2. 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?

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