Let’s be honest… not everyone has the patience to spend a lot of time and effort to make tasty things to eat, and I’m one of them. However, I do love good food, and I have grown to appreciate the feeling of satisfaction when someone appreciates food I make.
But then comes in issues such as time constraints, hence, a lot of cooking in my kitchen involves shortcuts and hacks. This is so I can spend less time in the kitchen and more time with the people I am cooking for.
Like most from the Indian Sub-continent, we love biryani in our house. My mum, I firmly believe, makes the best Kottayam-style biryani with caramelized onions and carrots on top - spicy, beautifully cooked chicken in aromatic rice. Necessary accompaniments include a hot pickle – usually either mango or lemon, a crunchy poppadum and fresh challas. Poppadum is a round crispy thin flatbread made with rice and lentil flours, while challas is a salad very unique to Kerala, which is usually served with chicken or beef fried cutlets or dry curries or, as you guessed, with biryani.
Like most from the Indian Sub-continent, we love biryani in our house. My mum, I firmly believe, makes the best Kottayam-style biryani with caramelized onions and carrots on top - spicy, beautifully cooked chicken in aromatic rice. Necessary accompaniments include a hot pickle – usually either mango or lemon, a crunchy poppadum and fresh challas.
However, as good as my mum’s biriyani is, I don’t love the process of cooking as much as she does. So I have an easier way to make it, especially during week days when I don’t have more than an hour and the craving hits like a ton of bricks. My chosen weapon of choice in this case - the good old pressure cooker. It reduces cooking time by about 70 per cent!
Many a modern cook will secretly swear by it, but hate to admit because they do not want to be seen as taking the fast way out of slow-cooking. I proudly admit that it is one of the handiest tools for a working person, who likes to cook without much time to spare.
The great thing about the pressure cooker is that a lot of things stay under your control, especially when you are trying to save time. The count of whistles is an exact measure to start and stop cooking, and you know your protein, veggies or rice will be cooked to edible levels no matter what. For a beginner in cooking, this is a much-needed bonus.
However, is it better than my mother’s biryani dish? Definitely not! It is the next best thing at half the time, half the cost and half the effort.
Preparation is key
I have learnt the hard way that prepping all your ingredients can speed up cooking in a big way. So all my chopping, slicing, soaking … is done before I turn on the gas knob.
You can use thawed frozen chicken, chilled or fresh chicken – with or without skin (depending on your preference). I like using the whole chicken cut in pieces but you can do just breast or drumsticks or thighs as well. A chicken needs to be cut to 12 pieces, to get curry size, as this ensures more flavor diffusion.
Clean the chicken thoroughly, leave it to drain in a sieve for about 10 to 15 minutes and then marinate. Keep the marinated chicken in the fridge, covered until you need it. The longer it stands, the more flavourful it will be, but if time is of essence – go ahead and use right away. As always, make sure you clean your hands and surfaces after handling raw meat. I use separate cutting boards for meat as well.
You can use any long grain rice brand. For all basmati rice, soaking for 20 to 30 minutes is a pre-requisite, however cooking times may vary from brand to brand. For faster cooking varieties, this method may lead to slightly mushy rice so reduce soaking time to 15 minutes. I have had definite success with rice that needs to be soaked for 25 minutes and then pressure cook for one whistle. For other fast-cooking ones, soak for 15 minutes only.
As you wait for that pressure whistle, you can ready the accompaniments.
For the challas or salad (ingredients are given below), mix thinly sliced onions with the green chillies, and use the back of a spoon to press down on the mixture to mix it really well. At this point you can add either white vinegar or yoghurt. I prefer yoghurt, wherein I mix a quarter cup of yoghurt with half a cup of water and pour that into the onion-chilli mixture.
Fry off a couple of poppadums and you’re done. If you want a guide to poppadums do let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will definitely work on it!
Marinade for chicken
1 tbsp garam masala or curry powder
½ tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp turmeric
½ tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder
½ tbsp black pepper powder
Salt as required
¼ cup of yoghurt
1 to 1.5 kg Chicken, small pieces (curry-cut) marinated
1.5 cups Basmati rice, soaked for 20 to 30 minutes
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 medium sized cloves of garlic ground to a paste*
1 inch piece of ginger ground to a paste*
1 cup of coriander (chop to add after cooking to retain aroma)
1.5 cups of water
Lemon juice (half of a lemon)
*You can use half a tablespoon of store-bought ginger-garlic paste instead
Spices and fats
Whole garam masala – Bay leaf (1), cardamom (2), cumin(2 tsp), whole black pepper(2 tsp), cinnamon stick (2-inch piece), star anise (2) and cloves (2)**
3 tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
½ tbsp ghee or clarified butter (optional)
**You can get a pre-packaged spice bag in Indian stores or sections in your supermarket. You get the best flavours when you dry roast them on a pan for about 1-2 minutes, till the aroma is released, and then use.
Challas or salad
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 green chillies, thinly sliced
Vinegar: 3 tbsp of it, if not using yoghurt***
Yoghurt: ¼ cup pf yoghurt with half a cup of water, if not using vinegar***
*** Do not use vinegar and yoghurt together, will be too sour for the palate to cope
Place the pressure cooker on medium-high heat.
Once the cooker is hot, reduce heat to medium low and add in your oil.
Add in the whole spices as the oil heats up.
Slightly stir the spices until aromatic taking care that nothing is getting burned.
Add in three of the sliced onions and the ginger-garlic paste.
Stir in a teaspoon of salt and sauté for 5 to 8 minutes until the onions are translucent, and you can no longer get the raw aroma of the onions, ginger or garlic.
Add in your marinated chicken and mix well, so the onion mixture is properly incorporated. This part does need a bit of elbow grease.
Add salt to taste and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add in your soaked basmati rice on top, and resist the urge to stir or you’ll break the rice. Will bring to mind Captain Haddock’s utterings (of Tintin fame) when faced with broken rice, so avoid.
Add in one cup of water for each cup of rice.
Add in lemon juice and salt to taste.
Close the pressure cooker, wait a beat then place the weight on.
On the first whistle, switch off the gas and leave on hob till pressure releases naturally. This helps in the cooking process.
Once open, add in chopped coriander leaves/cilantro and ghee, and use a fork to gently fluff rice on top. Give it all a gentle mix.
Serve hot with challas, pickle and poppadum.
Made extra for lunch the next day? My number one tip for storage of this biryani is to divide up the servings before eating or storing. This will ensure that the food cools down better and is undisturbed as it cools, and also allows for smart reheating. Once cool, you can store in the fridge for up to 4 days. As it is a rice dish, I wouldn’t recommend freezing.
If you heat it up to eat, don’t place it back in the fridge since heated chicken shouldn’t be chilled and reheated again for food safety reasons.