A centuries old recipe of rice slow cooked with goat meat, onions, yoghurt, lemon and coriander as well as numerous exotic spices and aromatics, all meticulously measured. Famous for its aroma, the ingredients include botanical oils, rose extracts, kewra water and saffron. It is eaten with a raita to balance the strong yet subtle favours.
Though it may appear indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, the Biryani originated in Persia. In fact, the word biryani comes from the Persian words birian and birinj, meaning ‘fried before cooking’ and ‘rice’.
There is still much debate on how the biryani arrived in India.
One legend talks about the Turk-Mongol conqueror, Timur, who brought the precursor to the biryani with him when he arrived at the frontiers of India during the 13th century. A war campaign diet of his soldiers, it was cooked in an earthen pot full of rice, spices and meats and buried in a hot pit for most of the day before being dug up and served.
Another legend has it that the dish was brought to the southern Malabar coast of India by Arab merchants. There are records in Tamil literature dating back to the year 2 CE about a rice dish called Oon Soru made of rice, ghee, meat, turmeric, coriander, pepper, and bay leaf, to feed warriors.
Regardless of its origins, it was the 17th century Nizam rulers of Hyderabad who popularised the Biryani and made it what it is today. The Nizams (originally from Persia) were known for their appreciation of the subtle nuances of biryani. Their chefs were known to have prepared over fifty different versions of the dish using fish, shrimp, quail, deer, and even hare meat. The Hyderabadi biryani, as it is now known, was a product of these palace kitchens.
The secret to a good Hyderabadi biryani lies in the details — frying the onions until they’re just short of burnt, marinating the meat overnight to tenderise and infuse it with spices, knowing the exact moment to take the rice off the heat and the delicate balance of spices and fragrances.