Biryani, the very word evokes images of a fragrant blend of rice, meat and spices crammed onto a steaming and incredibly delicious plate. Biryanis are difficult to resist and most people fall in love with them from the first spoonful. There is therefore no single recipe and the cooking method varies from one household to another.
Origins of Biryani
There are many different points of view on where and how the biryani came into being. Here are some theories –
Persian influence - The word "biryani" is said to derive from the Persian word "birij birian" which means "fried rice". Some people would say that references to a dish of rice and meat infused with spices (Oon Soru) existed in Tamil literature long before the Persians came to India. Timur, the Turkish-Mongolian conqueror, was also credited for bringing biryani - a dish used to feed his army. There is another theory that Mumtaz Mahal, wife of Shah Jahan, may have visited the army barracks one day and found the Mughal army weakened. That's when she asked the chef to prepare a nutritious meal combining rice, protein and spices, alias biryani. Arabs who found themselves in India in search of pepper were also credited for introducing this dish along the Malabar coast.
As you have noticed, there are many theories, but the consensus is on the theory that it is a dish that comes from the army, where the ease of preparing a meal in a single pan makes it extremely popular. Regardless of its origin, biryanis became immensely popular throughout India after the Mughal invasion.
Pulao vs Biryani: What is the distinction?
A delicate subject with many biryani lovers is the distinction between a pulao (pilaf) and a biryani. Both are rice dishes and contain meat, vegetables and spices. So how can we say who is pulao and who is biryani? Here are my thoughts and I let you draw your own conclusions.
In Biryani, meat and rice are cooked separately and then alternately with rice in general, being the first and last layer in the pot, which is then closed and cooked over a low heat. Stratification may be different for biryanis, but it is almost always present. The pulao, on the other hand, is a unique pot meal where meat and rice are cooked together without stratification. Biryanis are more aromatic as essences are added, these essences vary from Scots pine, rose, jasmine to saffron. Pulaos are not perfumed. Biryanis uses spices more abundantly and has more complex flavors than pulao, which are more subtle in their use of spices. Generally, Basmati rice is used to make biryani, while pulao does not have such requirements. The biryani is a meal in itself, but the pulao is part of a complete meal.
Types of Biryanis
There are literally dozens of different types of biryanis in the Indian subcontinent as well as in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Each has its own qualities, taste, flavour and distinct ingredients. The regional variation of biryani normally comes from the ingredients used. The emphasis on certain ingredients or spices used in the recipe gives distinctive regional flavours to the different biryanis.
Recipes can use different varieties of rice, from long grain basmati to other local aromatic rice such as kaima or jeerakasala in Kerala and Kala Bhaat in Hyderabad. The meat used can be goat, chicken, poultry, beef, fish, seafood, etc. Now, of course, you can even find vegetarian and vegan biryanis.
Basically, biryani can be divided into two groups according to how it is prepared.
Kachchi Biryani - where raw marinated meat, rice, spices and all ingredients are stacked and cooked in a sealed pot over low heat. Pakki Biryani - where rice and marinated meat are partially cooked separately. They are then stacked and sealed in a saucepan before being cooked over a low heat.
The different names of the biryanis come from the regions where they come from and from the cooks who popularized them. But what’s in a name anyway! A biryani cooked anyway, with all the ingredients, is always a biryani and just as delicious!
So here’s a good collection of recipes ranging from the usual recipes – chicken, shrimp