It’s not often that I make mutton biryani. It’s certainly not weekday evening fare, and is best suited for a leisurely weekend lunch. Happily, there is a good North African butcher close by and they stock goat meat. Goat meat is quite different from lamb, although confusingly, the two are used interchangeably in India. Goat is leaner and has less of a meaty smell than lamb.
There are biryanis and biryanis, and cooks and chefs all over the sub-continent have their own ways to make it. Personally, I like a lighter (less greasy and spicy) and more aromatic style of biryani, one where the raw meat and the rice are cooked together at the same time so the flavours meld together in “Dum” style. “Dum” just means slowly cooked in a sealed container.
It does require preparation, but is surprisingly foolproof to put together and makes for a special centrepiece for lunch. It also leaves you free once the assembly is done and the cooking begins. I have included several photos to demonstrate how straightforward it is. Follow the instructions closely and you will undoubtedly end up with a perfect biryani, with perfectly cooked meat, and fluffy rice.
Here’s a short video of the finished biryani – if this doesn’t inspire you to cook it, then nothing will!
Dum Mutton (Goat) Biryani
You can substitute lean lamb if you can’t find goat, but the flavour of lamb is stronger and it won't need the extra tenderising (in step 1 below). When buying the meat, get meat on the bone. You can use any combination of shoulder, ribs (chops) or leg, as long as it's bone-in and cut into about 2” pieces. The chops might need to he halved.
In India one would use raw papaya to tenderise the meat. Some chefs also use commercial meat tenderisers, which I am loathe to use. I have hence copied a trick used by Chinese chefs, i.e. to use a little amount of baking soda. It’s important to tenderise the meat else it could remain chewy/undercooked at the end of the cooking period.
You will need a good casserole with a heavy lid, and a flat cast iron griddle or a heavy roasting tray (that can fit the casserole dish) for cooking the biryani. The griddle diffuses the heat better and allows the base layer to cook more gently. This could be achieved in the oven, with only the base heating element on. I haven't tried it, and I assume that the oven will take more time due to the indirect nature of the heat.
1 hr 20 min min
The night before, prepare the meat. In a large mixing bowl, mix the baking soda with a few tablespoons of water and stir the meat around well in it to ensure it’s well coated. Leave aside for 15 min. Wash the meat well to remove any traces of the soda, before continuing with the next step.
In a large bowl, mix the yoghurt, garam masala, turmeric & chilli powders, ginger and garlic paste, and salt to make the marinade. Stir the chopped meat into the marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, take the meat from the fridge early, so it warms to room temperature before cooking. Mix in the chopped coriander and mint. Also wash and soak the rice in cold water (at least 30 min, up to 2 hours). Prepare the soft dough with flour (this is just for sealing and won't be eaten).
Rice: Bring plenty of water (about 1½ litres) to a boil in a large sauce pan and add the drained rice. As soon as the water comes back to a boil, turn down the heat and cook the rice about 5-6 minutes, until it’s parboiled. Drain off water and spread rice on a large platter or tray to cool. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of salt on the rice whilst it’s cooling.
Potatoes: Heat oil for frying in a wok or a saucepan. Wash the potatoes well (keep the skin on, unless you prefer to take it off), and cut the large potato into 4- 6 chunks or the small ones into 2. You want the potato pieces to be about 11/2” – 2”. Once the oil is hot, fry the potatoes on a high heat, until they are golden brown. At this stage the potatoes won’t be cooked through, they will finish cooking later. Keep the oil hot, to fry the onions, see next.
Onions: Retain 3 onions for later, and fry the rest, again on high heat until light golden. See note below for tip on frying them quickly. With onions, you need to remove them from the oil, when they are still looking pinkish golden, as they darken whilst cooling. If you fry them brown, they will get darker after cooling and might taste bitter.
Spiced ghee: Heat 3 tablespoons of the ghee in a small pan. As soon as it’s hot put in the spices and swirl around so that everything gets a good coating. Take off the heat.
Yoghurt: Crush the saffron in a pestle and mortar. Add a tiny bit of hot water to dissolve the strands and add to the yoghurt and stir well.
Final assembly: An hour and half before you are ready to eat the biryani, place a heavy casserole or Dutch oven (I use my trusty oval Le Creuset lidded casserole), on high heat. Put in the remaining 3 tablespoons of ghee until it's almost smoking, and take it off the heat whilst you finish assembly.
First spread the remaining sliced onions at the to bottom of the pan. They should fully cover the base. Next, arrange the marinated meat in a layer over the onions.
Follow this with ¼ of the rice, 1/3 of the potatoes and 1/4 of the fried onions. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the yoghurt and 1/3 of the spices cooked in ghee.
Repeat these layers ending with the fourth layer of rice, followed by a final fourth layer of fried onions. Pour over any remaining spiced ghee.
Roll out the dough into a long rope and seal the edges of the casserole/pot, so to avoid steam from escaping from the pot.
Place the casserole over high heat for about 8-9 minutes. If you listen carefully, you will hear the onions at the bottom starting to sizzle. Now place the roasting tray or griddle underneath the casserole, and let it cook on high heat for another 10 minutes. After this, reduce the heat to the lowest setting (leave the base underneath the casserole) and let it cook for about 45-55minutes, depending on the size of the meat pieces.
Break the dough seal only when you are ready to serve. Serve by cutting through the layers so that everyone gets a bit of juicy meat from the bottom.
- To speed the frying process, spread the onions on a paper towel lined plate. Cover with another paper towel and microwave on high heat for 2 minutes. Take, out, and then fry. They will colour in minutes. (Be warned that your microwave will smell strongly of onions!)
- The oil left over after frying can be strained and reused. It will have a flavour of onions so is best used when the onion taste will compliment what you are cooking; perfect for oriental stir-fries.
Serve the biryani with plain or homemade yoghurt (Make your own, click here for the recipe), or Raita (click here for the recipe).