What is Biryani?

Happy Sunday Munchies! Today we will attempt to demystify the history and preparation of the regal dish known as Biryani.

Let’s start with a little bit of history. Biryani has been savored not only by Mughal Emperors, but also army soldiers in the Mughal Empire.  The Nizam of Hyderabad in South India promoted the Hyderabadi biryani, which is traditionally spicier than other styles of biriyani.

There is a plethora of biriyani variations, with different combinations of meat and vegetables, and the spice mixtures vary by region.  The Avadhi Biryani for example, is much lighter in taste with very few key ingredients such as Aloo Bukhara, nuts and rosewater.  Contrastingly, Hyderabadi biryani is more spicy and herbaceous. What unites these types of biryanis, however, are their elaborate cooking methods.

Biryani can be cooked with raw meat (Kacchi Biryani) or cooked meat (Pakki Biryani). The rice, however, always needs to be half-cooked.  For Kacchi Biryani, the meat is marinated overnight with yogurt & spices before it’s put into the vessel with the rice.   For Pakki Biryani, the meat and spices are half cooked, since the rest of the cooking is done inside the sealed pot with the rice.  The half-cooked rice slowly opens up over a long period of time.  The technique enables the rice to absorb all the juices and flavors from the meat, as well as a profusion of aromatics.  These aromatics include rosewater, screw-pine water, saffron, or herbs such as mint and coriander leaves. The process in result incorporates the meat and the spices to create a complete thought instead of separate elements.  Every bite of a true biryani should have tender meat, moist rice, and a whiff of that aroma.

The complexities of cooking Biryani not only lies in its cooking method but also in a special cooking vessel called a Degh (aka Deghchi).  This Deghchi is important especially for large quantities because it entraps the steam to help the ingredients cook evenly and thoroughly.

Rice and meat are layered in the Deghchi and sealed (either with cloth or dough) so that the steam can’t escape, until cooked thoroughly. The layering technique is crucial for the even distribution of rice and meat. This delectable concoction is called Dum Pukht Biryani.  As you can imagine, a lot of labor, time, and patience goes into preparing this. Therefore, Biryani can’t be made on a short notice.

We hope that these tidbits have enlightened you folks about how Biryani is prepared & led you to appreciate how intricate this regal dish can be!