Daily Archives: February 13, 2012

The Biryani Challenge

A few weeks ago I was challenged by a friend, who is a self proclaimed biryani connoisseur, to make an authentic biryani because I made the mistake of saying that I make a pretty good one.  You see he’s from Hyderabad, the land where biryani originated.  It was argued that more than likely I make a pulao rather than a biryani.  I countered that while I don’t make mine exactly in the traditional style, I use the same technique with a recipe I have developed on my own over the years.  And this is where it all started……I took on the challenge and d-day was yesterday. 
For those of you who don’t know what a biryani is – it is an Indian dish made with layers of rice, meat (usually lamb or chicken), sautéed onions, eggs with lots of flavors and spices in between.  You may think you’ve had this in Indian restaurants because so many have it on their menu.  But what most restaurants call a biryani is not the real thing.  It is indeed a pulao which most certainly is not layered or as complex to make and nowhere nearly as delicious.
I started prepping early Saturday.  Ideally I should have marinated the chicken on Friday but Happy Hour in NYC with friends took precedence over this task.  As I went through my day marinating the chicken, slicing and sautéing the onions, etc. I began to worry.  After all I had something to prove, but I had no idea what I was being pitted against since the comparison was going to be made against something I had never tasted; a very personal taste that belonged to someone else.  I thought how in the world do I get myself into these situations and why?  But I calmed down and went about the task at hand.
I finished the final touches on the biryani yesterday while my friend watched me slave away and sipped on a glass of wine.  I must say he was very respectful and no comments were passed on my technique from the peanut gallery.  The house smelled amazing as I pulled it out of the oven and I knew that I had been successful.  But of course that did not mean I was successful in the challenge.  And so we sat down to dinner and I watched anxiously for the reaction.  It was the one I had hoped for.  I was given 10 out of 10 for effort and food, but I downgraded myself to a 9 because of a slight negative comment on something I do with my biryani that I will not change.  You see I call mine a “refined”  biryani which means that I debone the chicken and remove the peppercorns, cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves, etc. out of the rice after cooking because I don’t like to necessarily bite down on them while I’m enjoying my food.  I don’t like the intense flavor that they bring to an otherwise balanced bite.  Apparently not everyone feels this way because my friend likes to have all of that left in – can’t please all the people all the time.  But in an effort to make amends, I had saved everything I pulled out in a bowl and just had him add it all to his plate.  And voila! He had the best of both worlds.  I was happy with my rating since the highest rating for what he calls the “best biryani around here” is 7 out of 10 at Paradise Biryani in Edison, NJ.  And I had proven that what I make is definitely not a pulao.
If anyone would like to attempt to make this recipe, I did make notes this time on the ingredients and measurements (sort of) and will put the recipe in my next post.  I must warn you that it takes a lot of time, patience and TLC.  But the result is quite rewarding and delicious and you will not be disappointed.
Final note to self:  Next time just give in and admit that you make a pulao!
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