Biryani evokes a variety of emotions among Indians. Making it had always been a source of apprehension for me. But, owing to my friend Albar’s boneless chicken biryani recipe, I was finally able to overcome my anxiety of creating what is maybe the subcontinent’s most iconic dish.

While the actual origins of biryani are unknown, it was undoubtedly inspired by Persia’s merchants and has evolved into a variety of forms in South Asia over time. Pooja Makhijani, a friend of mine, wrote a fantastic essay for Saveur about the various types of biryani, and Kathryn of Cardamom & Tea talks about its Persian origins here.

Pulao was my main food in Islamabad as a kid. My Karachi friends first introduced me to this delicious, flavorful dish during college. After test week, I would treat myself to biryani take-out from Biryani Express, a nice change from the khokha’s cup noodles and stale pizza (tuck shop).

During college breaks, my friend Albar enjoyed biryani as well. Except he was fortunate enough to have one lovingly prepared by his mother rather than one purchased from a shady take-out establishment.

Albar’s family is from Lahore, and the biryani he ate in college was inspired by the region’s rich Mughlai culinary culture. Albar re-creates his mother’s recipe in this video to make it more portable. The “young professional biryani” is a boneless chicken biryani (a term that could only originate in Washington).



  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds optional
  • 3 whole cloves optional
  • Salt to taste


  • 4 tablespoon oil
  • 1 ½ lb. boneless/skinless chicken thighs diced
  • 1 medium onion thinly sliced in half rings
  • 3 tablespoon crushed ginger
  • 2 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • 1 black cardamom
  • 1- inch cinnamon stick
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoon coriander powder
  • ¾ teaspoon red chilli powder
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala
  • 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes drained
  • ½ tablespoon dried pomegranate seeds/anar dana (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon yogurt brought to room temperature
  • 2 bird’s eye chilies half slit
  • Handful of cilantro


  • Wash the rice well, and soak it for at least 30 minutes. Drain it.
  • Bring a large pot (about 4 quarts) of water to a boil, and add 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds, cloves, salt, and rice. Bring to a simmer till rice is al dente, about 5 minutes or less.
  • Drain the rice immediately on a colander.
  • Heat a saucepan and toast the cumin and coriander seeds on low heat till they are aromatic. Let them cool and then, grind in a spice or coffee grinder or using a mortar and pestle. Place in a small bowl along with black cardamom, cinnamon stick, turmeric powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, red chili powder and garam masala powder. This can be done in advance.
  • Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot and add oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the thinly sliced onions and a dash of salt. Fry the onions on low to medium heat till they are a deep brown. Traditionally, you are encouraged to let them simmer on low heat for close to 25 minutes, I stick to about 10 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn.
  • Once the onions are evenly done, add crushed ginger and garlic, and all the spices set aside earlier. Fry the spices till they stop smelling raw. Add a splash of water to deglaze the pan if needed. Check for salt and adjust as needed.
  • Increase heat and add crushed tomatoes. Mix well and let it simmer on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the pomegranate seeds (if using), and the diced chicken. Stir on high heat for another 4 minutes.
  • Once the chicken is about done, lower heat and add yogurt, green chilies and half of the chopped cilantro.
  • Let the chicken simmer for another few minutes till its evenly cooked and the volume of the mixture has reduced and become concentrated. Remove from heat.
  • In a separate heavy-bottomed pot, add half of the rice. Top with the chicken korma and spoon the remaining rice over it. Top with the remainder of the cilantro.
  • To put the biryani on ‘dum’, tightly wrap the pot’s lid with a kitchen towel and cover the biryani. Turn the heat up and then, dial it to the lowest point. Let the biryani steam for about 10 minutes.
  • Remove from stove and gently mix the biryani, taking care not to break the rice. Place in large serving platter. Garnish with finely chopped cilantro and green chilies.


For those who find whole spices over-whelming, you can omit the whole cumin seeds in the rice. For the chicken korma, you can remove them with a slotted spoon before you layer it with the rice.

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