Greg's lamb biriani
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I'm no longer very happy with this recipe. Somehow it now seems boring. I should update it, but it's such a pain. What I plan is at least:

More at my diary for 17 September 2023.

Some time ago I wrote up a page on chicken biriani, but lamb biriani is different enough that it's not just a case of substituting different meat. As I wrote in the chicken recipe: It's surprising how few recipes I can find for Biriani, and how much the individual recipes I have vary. I can discount the Malay versions, I think; it's not really a Malay dish, and the Malay Beryani (sic) tastes very different. Some of these recipes leave me with the impression that they have never been accurately quantified. The base recipe for the chicken biriani had an ingredient (potatoes) that got cooked and forgotten about, and one of the base recipes for this dish prepared a broth, reserved it and then forgot about it.

There seem to be a number of issues in cooking a biriani, not including the spelling. For some reason, the majority of recipes in Google spell the word “biryani”, though I can't see any good reason for this. I'm sticking to the spelling I learnt.

The issues with cooking the biriani are:

As if that wasn't enough, it's also quite complicated. I've found that it's convenient to split the cooking into several sections, some of which can be done some time in advance.

In the end I took ideas from two recipes, one by Dharamjit Singh in the Penguin Book of Indian Cookery, 1971 edition (yes, I've had it that long, and it looks like it), and the other, with the pompous title “Shahjahani biriani” in the Time-Life book of Indian Cooking that I've had almost as long. I opted for boiling the meat, for saffron rather than turmeric, and for lots of nuts and raisins, though not as much as the Time-Life book suggested.


In this table, “step” is in the form part/step. For example, 2/3 refers to step 3 of part 2.

quantity     ingredient step
1.2 kg deboned leg of lamb 1/1
1 mutton or beef bone 1/1
5 g coriander leaves 1/1
15 g ginger 1/1
1 chili 1/1
1.5 g cinnamon stick 1/1
5 g salt 1/1
500 g basmati rice 1/2
350 g large onions 2/1
0.4 g saffron 2/2
30 g coriander 2/3
15 g cumminseed 2/3
125 g ghee 3/2
1 g cloves 3/2
2.5 g cinnamon 3/2
2 g cardamom kernels, without husk      3/2
5 g whole black pepper 3/2
40 g raisins 3/2
50 g pistachio kernels 3/4
40 g almonds 3/4
20 g cashew nuts 3/4
60 g ghee 3/4
20 g salt 3/4
20 g ginger 4/1
20 g garlic 4/1

Part 1: At least 4 hours before serving

  1. Chop the meat into large pieces (10-15 cm). Put meat and bone in a saucepan, cover with about 3 cm water and bring to the boil. Keep skimming the foam until the water is clear. Add the other part 1, step 1 ingredients and simmer gently for about 2 hours. I've found that some lamb requires up to 3 hours to be tender; the meat should no longer be chewey.

    This can be done a day or more in advance.

    After the meat has finished cooking, remove from the broth and separate from the other ingredients. Discard the rest, keeping only meat and broth separately. Cut the meat into 2 cm cubes.

  2. Wash the rice and dry it on a tea towel.

Part 2: 90 minutes before serving

  1. Cut off the tops and bottoms of the onions, but you don't need to peel the outer skin at this stage. They should weigh about 150 to 200 g each. If they're this size, cut them lengthwise into quarters, then cut the quarters across the middle. If they're bigger or smaller, cut them into more or fewer pieces. Put them in the microwave oven at medium heat (about 400 to 500 W) and heat for about 7 minutes, by which time they should be soft and translucent. If you use more or less onions, alter the heat setting on the microwave oven if you can, not the time. Allow to cool, then separate the layers and discard the peel.
  2. Boil a small quantity of water, put in the saffron threads and leave for a while.
  3. Dry-fry coriander and cumminseed until aromatic, then grind in a spice grinder.

Part 3: 1 hour before serving

  1. Check the broth from part 1, step 1. There should be 1 litre left over. If there is less, dilute with water. If more, you can reduce it, or just discard the rest (but first check that the quantities below work for you).
  2. Fry about three-quarters of the coriander and cumminseed (part 2, step 3) in the 125 g portion of ghee until they smell cooked, then add the dried rice. There should be enough ghee to coat the rice, which will start to go translucent after a couple of minutes. Add the saffron, raisins, salt and the whole spices (3/2) and stir well, then add most of the reserved broth to get the water level to be about one-third as high again as the rice. Ensure that at least 100 ml of the broth is kept for later; add water if the level isn't enough. Boil until the water level is the same as the rice level, then turn heat down low, cover and cook for a further 2 minutes. Turn heat off and wait for a total of 20 minutes since covering the pot.
  3. Put an oven tray at the bottom of the oven and heat it to about 180°. When hot, pour about 2 litres of boiling water into the tray.
  4. Chop the nuts coarsely, about four or five pieces per nut. Fry gently in the 60 g portion of ghee until they barely start browning. Be careful here: it's very easy to burn them. Remove from the ghee and reserve. Note that if you overheat them, they will continue to brown after being removed from the ghee.
  5. By now the microwaved onions should have cooled down. They should be half-cooked. Fry them briefly in the remaining ghee, adding more ghee if necessary (it shouldn't be), until they are hot and covered in ghee, but not cooked. Remove from the pan and squeeze out excess ghee back into the pan.

Part 4: 30 minutes before serving

  1. Chop the garlic and ginger finely, then fry gently in the remaining ghee with the remainder of the coriander and cumminseed (part 2, step 3). Add the meat and coat with the spice mixture.
  2. Add the remaining 100 ml broth so that there's a little sauce. Boil for about a minute, then add to the rice, mixing in gently. The rice should still be very moist, but there should be no liquid between the grains. Add the nuts and cover with the onions.
  3. Place the pot uncovered in the oven (care! use an oven glove. The boiling water will scald you otherwise) for ten minutes. Remove from oven and leave to stand for 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Serve with chutneys and raita.

Other lamb biriani recipes

While researching the recipe, I found some other recipes that seemed better than average. I haven't tried these, but they were interesting enough to keep the links.

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