Biryani is a celebration of all that is great about Indian food – the heady aromas, the vibrant colours, the fluffy rice and those addictive curry flavours. Make this Chicken Biryani with your protein of choice – or try a vegetable biryani!

There’s subtle flavourings used for the rice, and a load more used for the curry sauce.
There’s a lengthy list but there’s nothing exotic here, you can find all these spices at everyday supermarkets here in Australia. Some recipes call for Asafoetida which is an Indian spice that requires a trip to an Indian grocer. We tried it with and without, and I swear we could not taste a difference. So we don’t use it. 

Chicken Biryani

Recipe video above. Curried chicken cooked in a pot buried under a mount of fragrant, fluffy rice. Biryani is a celebration of all that we love about Indian food! Make this with other proteins or vegetables - see notes. There's a load of spices in this - and it's worth it! (Plus you'll find everything at every day supermarkets). Spiciness: moderate low.


  • 750 g / 1.5 lb chicken thighs , skin on, bone in, halved along bone (Note 1)


  • 2/3 cup / 150 ml yoghurt , plain
  • 1/2 cup / 125 ml water
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (or other plain oil)
  • 6 garlic cloves , minced
  • 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (adjust spiciness to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp garam marsala (Note 2)
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp paprika , sweet / ordinary (not smoked)
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt


  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 10 cloves
  • 5 dried bay leaves
  • 1 star anise
  • 6 green cardamon pods
  • 2 1/4 cups / 450g basmati rice (Note 3)


  • 2 medium onions (yellow, brown) , halved and finely sliced
  • 1 cup / 250 ml oil , for frying


  • 1 tsp saffron threads (loosely packed) (Note 5)
  • 2 tbsp warm water


  • 1 cup coriander / cilantro , chopped
  • 60 g / 1/4 cup ghee or unsalted butter , melted (Note 6)


  • Crispy onions (above)
  • Chopped coriander / cilantro
  • Yoghurt (Note 7)


  • Mix Marinade in a large pot (about 26cm / 11" diameter). Add chicken and coat well. Marinade 20 minutes to overnight.


  • Bring 3 litres / 3 quarts water to the boil, add salt and spices.
  • Add rice, bring back up to the boil then cook for 4 minutes, or until rice is just cooked still a bit firm in the middle. Rice will taste salty at this stage, disappears in next stage of cooking.
  • Drain immediately. Set aside. (Note 10 re: leaving whole spices in)


  • Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Cook onion, in batches, for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown. Don't burn - they become bitter.
  • Remove onto paper towel lined plate. Repeat with remaining onion.


  • Place in a bowl, leave for 10 minutes+.


  • Place pot with chicken in it onto a stove over medium heat. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Remove lid. Cook for 5 minutes, turning chicken twice.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Turn chicken so skin side is down - it should cover most of the base of the pot.
  • Scatter over half the onion then half the coriander.
  • Top with all the rice. Gently pat down and flatten surface.
  • Drizzle saffron across rice surface in random pattern, then drizzle over ghee.
  • Place lid on. Return to stove over medium heat.
  • As soon as you see steam, turn down to low then cook for 25 minutes.
  • Remove from stove, rest with lid on for 10 minutes.

Recipe Notes:

1. Cut the chicken along the bone, keeping the bone in. So one half will have no bone, the other will have the bone.
Skin on bone in thighs is the safest to use (forms a protection barrier on base) and yields juicy chicken. Even if you overcook, worst case is crispy chicken skin which protects the flesh and rice. Next best is boneless chicken thighs.
I take no responsibility for outcome if breast is used! But here is how I would do it: use whole breast, remove chicken from marinade, simmer marinade on low until it's almost like a paste. Squidge raw breast back in the "paste", then follow recipe starting with the onion and coriander layers. This will reduce the time the breast is cooking so keep it as juicy as possible
2. Garam Masala is an Indian spice mix and you'll find it in the spices aisle at every day supermarkets in Australia.
3. Can be substituted with jasmine or long grain rice but be aware that the fragrance will be slightly different. Still super tasty!
4. For an easy sub, use store bought crispy fried shallots or onions. The shallots are found in the Asian section of every day supermarkets and Asian stores (cheaper!). Get plenty! Use some in the biryani and lots for garnish!
5. Saffron brings a unique flavour to the rice as well as the vibrant yellow colour. But it's not cheap! If you're budget doesn't extend to saffron threads, use the economical saffron powder which is not pure saffron. Mix 1/2 tsp powder with the water and proceed with recipe.
6. Ghee is clarified butter, follow steps in my Movie Popcorn recipe to make ghee. Otherwise, you'll find it in the Indian section of some supermarkets (Coles, Harris Farms), or Asian stores. Otherwise, just use butter - not a deal killer here!
7. Plain yoghurt is fine. Here's a quick Raita (Minted Yoghurt, pictured & in video): Mix 1 1/2 cups plain yoghurt with 1/3 cup finely chopped mint leaves with a good pinch of salt and a touch of water to loosen consistency if needed.
8. Vegetable Biryani - Made it and loved it! Choose any vegetables you like. Suggestions: Capsicum, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, potato, zucchini, peas. Chop into pieces that will roughly be done at the same time when stewed, so that you have about 8 cups in total. Additionally, slice one onion.
Mix the marinade ingredients in a separate bowl, with the following changes: 3/4 cup of yoghurt; 300ml /1 1/4 cups water ; 1 tbsp garam marsala; 1 tbsp ground coriander; do not include vegetable oil in the marinade. Use all other spices per recipe.
Saute the onion in 4 tbsp of vegetable or coconut oil. When starting to colour, add vegetables (except peas, if using) and marinade. Bring to a simmer and stew the vegetables until they are 50% cooked (softened but still firm), remove from heat. Stir in the frozen peas, if using. Continue with the remaining rice cooking, assembly and cooking steps as per main recipe.
9. Other proteins: Goat, lamb, beef, rabbit. Cut so the meat is jam packed and covers the base of the pot. Add water to marinade so meat is mostly covered, place lid on an simmer on medium low for as long as required so it's pretty tender. It might take 1 hour or longer, depending on what you use. When tender, remove lid and let the sauce reduce down to about 1 to 1 1/2 cups. Then proceed with recipe.
* Scaling recipe (click on servings and scale) - must scale pot size up/down
* Salt - yes you really need 2 tbsp salt to par boil the rice. The rice will taste salty at this stage but the salt comes out of the rice during the second stage of cooking. Trust me, you need that much salt in the water!
* Spiciness is mainly from cayenne, a bit from garam masala. So adjust to taste.
* Fresh spices - use fresh spices, not ones that have been sitting around in your pantry for years!
* Whole spices - the whole spices are typically left in the rice. They soften when cooked so to me it's not a big deal, I've never found it off-putting. If you're really concerned, either pick them out just before layering in the pot or wrap the spices in a small muslin or cheesecloth.
11. Storage - Leftovers keep well for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. Reheat in microwave. As rice is not quite as moist with leftovers, best to serve with yoghurt (even plain is fine). Even freezing should be fine, haven't tried it but rice and curry both freeze great so I see no reason why this wouldn't freeze well.
Make Ahead - These are the things that can be done ahead: Par Boil the rice up up to 24 hours ahead of using. Marinate the chicken and cook it per recipe up to the point before rice covers it up to 2 days ahead. OR leave the marinated chicken in the freezer for up to 48 hours. Make saffron water and onion. Then on the day of, assemble the biryani layers and cook per recipe!

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