The classic Kolkata chicken biryani with its juicy tender meat, mild & fragrant spices & succulent potatoes, is inspired heavily by the Awadhi style.
As I write this, fond memories of Arsalan, Shiraz & Aminia just keep coming back🤍 The city’s love for this stellar dish can be experienced through the countless biryani eateries strewn across its length and breadth.
The seeds were planted in the mid 1800s when the 10th Nawab of Awadh (or Oudh) was exiled from Lucknow and his properties were seized by the British. He moved with his entourage to Metiabruz in Calcutta, which soon became a cultural mecca thriving with musicians, courtesans, royal kitchen khansamas (cooks), skilled darzis (tailors), et al.
The Nawab was a man of taste and a well known connoisseur of food. He had his royal kitchen khansamas with him who were some of the best of those times- highly skilled, enterprising and always innovating to indulge and delight the Nawab’s tastebuds.
That’s how Awadhi biryani which is cooked in the dum-pukht style reached Calcutta. In dum-pukht style of cooking, the rice and the meat korma is cooked separately and then layered in the pot on which the lid is sealed tightly with dough so that the steam doesn’t dissipate and flavours remain intact.
This ingenious method results in the exotic aromatic juices from the meat to ooze into the rice and potatoes, creating a subtle yet exquisite flavour in the biryani.
All great so far!
But how did the humble (or not so humble) potato and egg come into the picture?
If you ask me, I would say the potato is my favourite thing about biryani. Only those who have tasted Kolkata biryani would truly understand what I’m saying! Undoubtedly, it is the humble soft potato that connects true blue Calcuttans across the globe and sparks debate (at the drop of a hat) about the best biryani joints in Kolkata.
There’s a lot of literature out there discussing the origin/ history of adding potatoes. On researching, most sources lean towards the theory that with the Nawab’s wealth depleting, the purse strings were tightened but being a gourmet, he always enjoyed having his royal meals. So his khansamas began innovating in the kitchen to find ways to satiate him, hence the inclusion of potatoes (and later on eggs) to stay within budget. Click here to read more.
But there’s another side to this claim which states that potato was actually considered an exotic vegetable. According to the great-great-grandson of the Nawab Shahanshah Mirza, as mentioned in an article published by Hindustan Times, potato cultivation was sparse in those days and hence not readily available, making it a luxury produce.
The khansamas simply experimented one day with potatoes in the biryani which the Nawab seemed to relish and approve of, and that’s how potatoes got introduced in Kolkata biryani 🙂 You can read the complete article here
For the chicken biryani, I blindly followed Manzilat Fatima’s brilliant recipe (she draws her lineage from Awadh’s royal family), noting down every single ingredient and technique that went into making this phenomenal dish, which she shared in a YouTube video by Delhi Food Walks🤍 Only exception being the eggs which I added, as I love eggs 😀
I have tried her recipe for at least 7-8 times now and every single time the flavours simply knock your socks off! There’s no going back now. Watch the video to get her mind blowing recipe or you can continue to read below where I have broken down her recipe in 4 simple steps (for 3 servings):
Peel 4 potatoes and fry them in mustard oil. Sprinkle salt, 1/3 tsp turmeric and a little red chilli powder while frying. Add little water, cover and continue to fry them. Keep aside when almost done.
Now heat some more mustard oil and fry 1 large red onion to make barista. Drain and keep aside on a paper towel.
Heat mustard oil in a handi (or a deep bottomed pan). Add 4-5 cloves, 6 green cardamoms, 1 black cardamom and 2 cinnamon sticks. Fry for a while and add the fried barista again. Throw in 2 fat cloves of crushed garlic and fry for a few seconds.
Now add 2 tbsp hung yogurt and mix well. Add little red chilli powder, 2 tbsp biryani masala (I used Shan Pilau Biryani masala, it’s fantastic!) and mix well. Now add 2 inch grated ginger and fry everything for a while. Add 6 chicken thighs (bone-in) and cook on medium heat for 5-7 mins. Lower the flame, cover and keep cooking.
Wash and soak 11/2 cup rice for 1 hour. Drain and keep in a colander. Now boil a pot of water and add 4 cloves, 4 cardamoms and 2 bay leaves while boiling.
Once it comes to a rolling boil, add 1 tbsp lemon juice, salt to taste and the drained rice.
Cook until the rice is about 90% done.
In the korma handi/ pan, gently place the potatoes and sprinkle a tsp of kewra water. Next, assemble the rice and pour half a cup of milk mixed with 1 tsp biryani masala on top.
Mix 2 tsp kewra water with saffron strands and drizzle over rice. Drizzle some ghee (clarified butter) and place 2 boiled eggs. I had some extra onion barista which I sprinkled on top. Now place an aluminum foil on top of the handi and seal it properly.
Cover with a lid on top and cook on low heat for 30 mins. Keep a standing time of at least 5 mins.
2 Replies to “Authentic Kolkata Biryani- Tracing Roots & Bridging Cultures”
Very well-documented write-up, Piyu. And I hope to try your recipe. Biryani is a huge weakness in our household and what can be better than trying your recipe?
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Thank you so much for always appreciating 🙂 🙂