The Chicken Biryani that saved my life at Ana and Peters, Vienna

A summery day 5 years back, I was hosted by a lovely couple Ana and Peter at Vienna. part of a wonderful experience known as hospitalityclub.org, I got to devour all my European food fantasies and it was my turn to give back to this warm and hospitable couple.

                  As a beginner cook, nervous, and wondering if I will find my ingredients for my shortcut biryani (my favourite comfort food), I walked alongside Ana and Peter in Vienna’s Asian market. Not only did I find everything, but I also had mini heart attacks! That bunch of coriander costed Rs 200! Back home in India, I could have got a truck load of that stuff.

After recovering from my frantic Euro to Rupee conversions, Ana helped me with the prep work. Peter provided the entertainment, cracking jokes and lightening the atmosphere with some nice music and taking a mini-photo session. Soon, I forgot my nervousness and was back to my letcooksomethingtodaycauseitsundaymood. 

This shortcut chicken biryani reminds me of lazy sunday afternoons and the earliest tastes of my childhood. The gravy in the dish is also one of the earlier dishes my mother taught me – which I will hope to pass onto everyone I know ’cause absolutely no one in this world should miss out on this heavenly experience!

1 kg (2.2 pounds) chicken (cut into medium-sized cubes)

4-5 medium, firm tomatoes (chopped)

6 medium red onions (chopped)

100 g  (4 ounces) ghee (available in Indian stores) 

                  or

3 tbsp vegetable oil 

1 kg (2.2 pounds) cooked Basmati rice (available in Indian stores) See the note below on how you can cook Basmati rice!

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 and 1/2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste (for a milder version, use less of the paste)

2 cloves

Small bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick

2-3 green cardamoms

2 tsp chilli powder (we add more as we are indians!)

2 tsp coriander powder

2 tsp cumin powder

Salt to taste

Coriander leaves – a bunch

1) To heated oil, add the whole spices (cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaf). Simmer and let it infuse the oil on medium heat.

2) Add the chopped onions. Saute till they turn dark brown, taking care not to burn them, as  it will turn bitter.  This step is important as the dark brown onions add a great flavour to the dish.

3) Add the ginger garlic paste to the fried onions. Saute the mixture and let it cook.

4) Add the tomatoes and the spice powders (turmeric, coriander and cumin and chilli). Cook for a few minutes. Let the juices of the tomatoes cook out. Add 1/2 cup of water to ensure all the spices get amalgamated thoroughly and you have an even gravy.

5) After cooking for about 5-10 minutes, add the chicken. Let it cook out for a bit before you add another 1/2 cup of water and ensure it completely covers the mixture.

6) Close with a lid and let it simmer on medium heat for 30 mins. Check the chicken if it is cooked. Add salt to taste. Then add the three cups of cooked rice to the gravy.

7) Mix it gently, taking care not to break the chicken pieces and ensure the rice is coated with gravy.

8) Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve with Raita – add 1/2 red onion (chopped), salt to taste, and 1/2 tsp coriander powder to 2 cups whipped, non-sweet yoghurt.

Note: Reduce the amount of oil if you are watching your weight as the chicken’s fat will cook out the dish. However, you will not be able to fry the onions to a dark brown colour.

Note: To cook 2.2 pounds of cooked rice: wash rice grains to remove any impurities. Soak in water for 15 minutes so the cooked rice comes out fluffy. You can skip this step if you are in a hurry. Basmati rice is always cooked in the ratio of 1:1 and 3/4 (rice to water). Add water. Cover the vessel with a lid and cook on medium heat. Turn off heat after 20 mins of cooking.

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