Picture the scene…

It’s 7pm on Friday night in the The Ruby kitchen.

As the orders come flooding in to our Braintree takeaway, our expert team of chefs are busy preparing the evening’s Indian dishes, marinating and simmering chicken, lamb and vegetables in a delicious mix of onions and spices. A large pot brims full with fluffy Basmati rice, seasoned with bay leaves, cloves and other aromatic ingredients.

There’s a great chance that one of the orders being prepared is the ever popular Biryani.

The rice-based Biryani is one of our most popular and versatile dishes, a fine example of traditional Indian cuisine. It’s been called Indian food’s ultimate ‘one pot dish!’ and it has been enjoyed by Indian restaurant customers up and down the country and across the world for many years. 

At The Ruby, the dish has been a regular on our takeaway menu since we began.

We like it so much it forms the base of one of our most popular Indian Street food fusion dishes, The Ruby Biryani which is a delicious combination of Pilau rice, Chicken Tikka, Onion Bhaji, spices and our special Hot, sweet and sour sauce.

What’s the history of the Biryani?

You may be wondering, why all the fuss? What is it that makes the biryani such a special dish? Well it’s got a long, varied history in Indian cooking and this article will tell you all you need to know about the mixed rice dish.

With the dish having such history, there’s no formal agreement on where the name ‘Biryani‘ comes from, though one theory suggests it comes from the word ‘birinj‘ which is the Persian word for rice.

Similarly, the Persian phrase ‘to fry’ is ‘beriyan’ which is again very similar. As the dish was very popular in Persia, there’s a good chance this is where it emerged.

A long and varied story

Different varieties of the dish emerged from both North and South India, where rice is such a common meal ingredient. The untraceable origins of the dish simply add to its appeal, as it’s benefitted from so many local ingredients and flavours.

Each region across India has its own version, from the hot Bhatkali biryani to the flavoursome Kashmiri biryani which uses fennel powder instead of hot chillies and green pepper. The Mughlai biryani emerged from the taste of Indian’s 16th-century royalty, who enjoyed the addition of almond paste and dried fruit.

A Vegetable Biryani prepared in to a Mughlai recipe

Perfect Indian food for a celebration

Biryani is a very celebratory dish – as it can be prepared in vast quantities in a huge clay oven to be enjoyed at weddings, birthdays or other special occasions.

What’s in a Biryani?

A biryani is a layered dish cooked in a pot with an entire chicken or vegetable serving as the base component. This is then mixed with aromatic spices and slow-cooked.

Basmati rice is then layered on, with water, beautiful fragrant Saffron, blends of spices including Cinnamon, Cardamom, Coriander, Chilies, Cloves, Cumin and Fennel Seeds. Once complete, it’s usually served with a side of raita, a yogurt-based condiment that helps cool the heat from the dish.

In the UK, the traditional condiment for a Biryani is a vegetable curry side dish, which you will find up and down the country in the local Indian restaurants and takeaways.

When it comes to meat, traditionally Biryani has been cooked with chicken, mutton (lamb), goat, fish, prawn or beef, depending on regional availability and preference.

At The Ruby, we have a variety of options for our Biryani, from Lamb, Chicken, Chicken Tikka, Vegetable or Seafood options, providing for all of our customers  tastes.

There are many different versions of an authentic Biryani. Some are cooked on  flat, round tawa pans. Others are sealed inside and cooked within inedible dough, which is then removed.

While this traditional recipe is delicious, the biryani cooking style can be applied to a variety of dishes.

Biryani Varieties

One of the most well known of the various biryanis is the Lucknowi (or Awadhi) biryani. It was created by Mughal royals in Northern India, back in the 18th century.

To cook, rice and marinated chicken are cooked separately before being combined and cooked within a pot sealed with flour, a method called ‘dum pukht’. The method creates a very subtle taste, using whole spices such as saffron and star anise.

The second variety of biryani we need to discuss is the Kolkata biryani. For many people, this is their number one choice when it comes to combined spiced rice with tender meat. It is similar in style to the Lucknowi but this version contains deep fried potatoes, or ‘aloo’.

Aloo is a staple in Bengali households and combined with eggs, it makes a delicious replacement for meat, which would be hard to come by.

A Kolkata style Biryani with potatoes

Unlike the Hyderabadi biryani, which can be very hot, the Kolkata has a mellow taste with elegant flavours. Coming from the south of India, the Hyderabadi has its own advocates, who claim that this is the number one version.

Debates rage long into the night over which is the best version. The thing that makes this one stand out is that the meat and rice are cooked together in a ‘handi’, an earthen pot, rather than cooked separately.

A home cooked Hyderabadi style Biryani

Ingredients and tools

The essential ingredients of a Chicken biryani are basmati rice, onions, butter, chicken and spices such as bay leaf, cinnamon and turmeric. Traditional cooking methods use a ‘tawa’ which is a flat, dish-shaped frying pan, though a standard wok or saucepan can also be used.

An example of the flat Tawa pan used for frying

The meal’s distinctive yellow colour comes from the turmeric spice which is added to the dish before the rice is mixed in.

Selecting the right rice

For biryani, always use long grain rice. Basmati rice with its thin, fine grains is the ideal variety to use. Cook the rice with ghee (clarified butter), with onions, garlic and ginger.

Long, fine grains of Basmati rice

Marinating meat

The first step in marinating meat for a biryani is to create the marinade itself. This is a sauce in which the meat will sit, soaking up the tastes and flavours.

Add olive oil, lemon juice, water, garlic, honey, salt, pepper and other spices to something capable of holding the chicken for a period of time.

Selecting spices

To make your own flavourful, aromatic biryani herbs and spice mix at home, for use in your own curry meals, you’ll need the essentials of onion, cardamom, peppercorn, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds and nutmeg.

These ingredients can be purchased from most large supermarkets, or in local specialist wholesale stores such as ‘The Asian Cookshop‘ in Braintree where staff will be happy to help.

Cardamon pods. You may have noticed these as an addition to your meals.

What to eat with a biryani

Traditionally we serve our Biryani with vegetable curry, however we have several fantastic accompaniments on our menu to go with your biryani such as Bombay Aloo, saag paneer or onion Bhaji.

Choose from one of our many fine accompaniments.

Take advantage of our online ordering system.

If you’d like to sample our version of this historic dish and support a local business at the same time, you can take advantage of our online ordering system to place your order. Our chef will be ready and the team will have the meal ready for you in no time whatsoever, so you can sit back and enjoy your evening!

If you’re feeling adventurous, why not try our modern twist on a traditional classic of Indian cooking, the extra special Ruby Biryani. 

You’ll taste why we’re Braintree’s number one Indian takeaway on Tripadvisor!