Friday, March 18, 2011

Experiment: Biryani

The other night I attempted to make one of my favorite Indian restaurant dishes at home: biryani. At Taj Palace, biryani is jasmine rice spiced yellow with turmeric and other eastern spices, loaded up with vegetables and your choice of meat, if you'd like. I searched the internet and found a recipe that seemed promising.

Brief list of ingredients I used:
  • butter
  • white basmati rice
  • cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, whole cloves, garam masala, turmeric
  • jalapeno, garlic, onion, carrots, yukon gold potato, peas, chicken thigh meat, asparagus, corn (these last two were my own additions to use up what was left in my refrigerator)
Needless to say, I made a couple of mistakes myself, and I am sure I found an "Americanized" recipe - I was not impressed at all with how my dish turned out. Part of my growing into being a good cook and learning how to formulate my own recipes has been learning from my mistakes and critiquing other recipes. Here's my critique of what went wrong with my homemade biryani:
  • I did not use ghee. Ghee is clarified butter and essential to much of Indian cooking. It is simple to make at home, I just haven't ever done it for some reason - I need to get on that!
  • The recipe called for whole spices - cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, peppercorns - and only 1/4 teaspoon each of turmeric and garam masala. Something told me that wouldn't be enough to flavor two cups of rice, ESPECIALLY since I am so fond of intense flavors, but I ignored my instinct with bad results. While the biryani was yellow, it was very mildly flavored - leading me to believe I found an "Americanized" recipe. We doused our bowls with hot sauce - not the flavor we were looking for, but just to spice it up. Next time I will use ground spices and triple the amounts!
  • I never cook rice on the stove except for risotto - I always use a rice cooker. However with the biryani you cook the rice in the pot with the vegetables and spices. Even though I had read the recipe through a couple of times, when it came to the rice, instinct took over and rather than letting the water boil first, then adding the rice (as the recipe said), I threw in the rice and then added the water. This resulted in the rice grains being a little pasty and not separate. It didn't ruin the dish, but it was not the texture I was looking for. Next time I will be sure to let the water boil first, then add the rice!
  • The potato was very mushy. According to the recipe I added it in before boiling the rice. Perhaps I used a super soft potato (yukon golds), or maybe it was cooked too long.
Here's a picture of my result. I'd give it a five out of ten stars - it wasn't bad, and we definitely ate all the leftovers, but compared to my other culinary adventures it was a dud.

I will continue my search for a delicious biryani that I can make at home. If you have a recipe, please let me know!

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