The perfect lamb biryani
Serves 8 | prep 25 mins | total time
For the lamb curry:
- 2 star anise
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 10 cloves, or ½ tsp ground cloves
- 50 black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp cardamom seeds
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 large onions
- 5cm ginger, peeled
- 8 garlic cloves
- 3 rapeseed oil
- 1kg lamb shoulder, chopped into 3cm cubes
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- 3 tbsp whole-milk yogurt
- 3 tbsp tomato purée
- 50g pomegranate seeds
- a handful of coriander
For the rice:
- 500g basmati rice
- 1 tsp rose water
- a large pinch of saffron, soaked in 2 tbsp hot water
For the dough (optional)
- 100g chapatti flour
- 50ml hot water
- 1 tsp rapeseed oil
- There's a fair bit of preparation involved in this dish, but if you tackle it upfront, you will have few complaints later. First prepare all your spices. Put the star anise, coriander, cloves, peppercorns, cumin, cardamom, fennel and 1 cinnamon stick into a spice grinder or food processor, or use a pestle and mortar, to grind them, and then set the spice mix to one side.
- Rinse your rice in at least three changes of water to wash out the starch and leave to soak in a bowl of cold water on one side until later. Next, chop your onions in half, peel and then slice into fine rings. Pop the ginger and garlic into a food processor, or finely grate the ginger and crush the garlic.
- Put 1 tablespoon of oil into a large, heavy-based, lidded frying pan on a high heat. When you are sure that the pan is very hot, sear the lamb in batches (so that you don't crowd the pan), turning, until golden brown. Take the meat out with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Tip If you would like this to be a gluten-free recipe, omit the dough covering in Step 8.
- Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to the same pan and fry the onions for 8-10 minutes, until soft and golden. Transfer half of the onions to a bowl and set to one side. Then put the garlic and ginger into the pan. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes and add your ground spice mix, together with the turmeric and chilli powder. Keep stirring to ensure these don't burn on the bottom of the pan.
- After a minute or so, add the lamb, yogurt and tomato purée, stir well, and add 400ml of warm water and the remaining cinnamon stick. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to low, pop the lid on and leave to simmer for around 1½ hours, or until done.
- Meanwhile, you'll need to cook the rice and prepare the fried onions for layering. Drain the rice and transfer to a saucepan. Pour enough cold water over the rice so that it is covered by 2-5cm, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Boil for 5 minutes, until it's just tender. Drain and set aside.
- Transfer the onions from the bowl to a small frying pan and continue to fry for another 10 minutes, or until the onions are caramelised, then take off the heat. Check on the lamb: as soon as it is falling apart, season with salt to taste and take off the heat.
- If you'd like to seal your biryani lid with dough make it now: knead together the flour, hot water and oil to make a nice soft dough. Alternatively you could seal the pot with a tight lid or foil.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, fan 160°C, gas 4. Take an ovenproof pan that will snugly accommodate the rice and lamb, such as a deep casserole dish (but not very wide in diameter). Remove half of the meat from the lamb curry using a slotted spoon (leave the sauce behind) and place it at the bottom of the pot. Top the meat with half of the rice and half of the onions and repeat with the rest of the meat, rice and onions. Keep the sauce of the curry aside to serve with the biryani.
- Sprinkle the rice with the rose water and the saffron water. If sealing with the dough rather than using a lid, roll out the dough so that it is big enough to cover the pan, then place it on the pan and seal by pressing down on the rim all the way around (or cover with the pan lid or foil). Transfer to the oven for 20 minutes.
- Crack open the biryani at the table and serve with the lamb curry sauce on the side, along with some pomegranate seeds and coriander leaves.
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