Chicken Biryani


I have more failures than successes in the kitchen. I no longer get upset because the truth is, I don’t feel like a failure. Sure, it’s frustrating at times, but I take these failures in stride. Sometimes I laugh myself silly. It’s just who I am.

Come on, flow with me:

Success never comes without a few failures. Failure paves the way to creativity; it allows you to leave your comfort zone, think outside the box, trouble shoot and explore.

Historically the best dishes have emerged from someone else’s failure. I can’t say I’ve failed the same way twice. I’ve failed differently, but never the same way.

I’ve learned lots…

As I’ve mentioned, I’m ever so slightly infatuated with Indian food. The spices and dimensions of flavor so unlike my own intrigue me. I don’t have a food comfort zone. I’ll eat and cook anything. Well, anything except animal innards. And I have this thing with blood. I still don’t understand blood sausage. Is it coagulated blood in pig intestines? That sounds weird…How would that taste? Does anyone know? Does it taste… Bloody? Oh gosh, my mind is plagued with questions…

But I digress…

Being an Indian food novice and before cracking open 5 spices, 50 dishes, I turned to the one place I knew would have answers for me: Cooks Illustrated.  A recipe for Chicken Biryani sealed the deal and I was ready to embark on a new, albeit slightly ambitious culinary adventure. This dish was a bit involved for a “one pot” and brimming with spices I’d come to recognize in Indian food.

There was a yummy yogurt spiced with mint, cilantro and garlic to counteract the heat. I bought my first bag of cardamom seeds and spent about 30 minutes just sniffing it.

Cumin seeds, cinnamon, and ginger completed the spice bundle Cooks Illustrated requested I tie in a piece of cheesecloth.

Smart… So smart…

I got to use Basmati rice for the first time. I didn’t have saffron lying around so I used a Goya seasoning with annatto, the broke chick’s saffron. A couple of packets gave my rice that nice orange hue. Cooks Illustrated had this layering technique which allowed every component to cook properly.

I was très excited and ready to dig in.


Something was lost in translation… Oh, the spices were there. The dish was reminiscent of something I had tried in the past; Cooks Illustrated’s technique was fool-proof.

Not for this fool…

So what happened?

I forgot the salt, that’s what – In everything. Even the chicken was severely under-seasoned. It was the type of thing that would have me sent home had I been a contestant on some cooking reality show. The challenge of a foreign cuisine made me nervous and I forgot the most important component in a savory dish: Salt.

Hours wasted; I had to sprinkle salt over the dish to make it somewhat edible, but it wasn’t the same… It was bland…

C’est la vie…

It’s not the worst thing in the world.

I tried again, remembering the salt, even sprung for the saffron and out of this epic failure something new emerged and this meal made the history books.


Chicken Biryani

Cuisine: Indian
Author: Adapted From Cooks Illustrated


  • For the Chicken Biryani
  • 10 green cardamom pods smashed with chef's knife
  • 2 cinnamon stick
  • 2 inch piece fresh ginger cut into 1/2-inch-thick coins and smashed with chef's knife
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seed
  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 ½ tsp. Table salt
  • 4-6 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs trimmed of skin and fat and patted dry with paper towels
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium onions sliced very thin (about 4 cups)
  • 2 medium jalapeño peppers seeded and chopped fine
  • 5 medium cloves garlic minced
  • 1 ¼ cups basmati rice
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads lightly crumbled ( I used 2 packets of Goya seasoning with annatto)
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
  • For the Yogurt Sauce:
  • 1 cup low-fat plain yogurt
  • 2 medium garlic cloves minced
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  • For the Chicken Biryani
  • Wrap cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, ginger, and cumin seed in small piece of cheesecloth and secure with kitchen twine. In a 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan bring water, spice bundle, and 1 ½ teaspoons (don’t forget this!) salt to boil over medium-high heat; reduce to medium and simmer, covered, until spices have infused water, at least 30 minutes (no longer).
  • Meanwhile, season both sides of chicken thighs with salt and pepper and set aside.
  • Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add butter and when foaming subsides add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and dark brown about edges. This will take about 10 to 12 minutes. Add jalapeños and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  • Transfer the onion mixture to bowl, season with salt, and set aside.
  • Wipe the skillet with paper towels, return to medium-high heat, and place chicken thighs skin-side down in skillet; cook, without moving chicken, until well browned, about 5-7 minutes. Flip chicken and brown second side, 5 -7 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a plate and tent with some foil to keep it warm.
  • Return spice-infused water to boil over high heat; stir in rice and cook 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain rice through fine-mesh strainer, reserving ¾ cup cooking liquid and discard the spice bundle.
  • Transfer rice to medium bowl; stir in Goya seasoning (or saffron) and raisins. The rice will turn a splotchy light orange. Spread half of rice evenly in bottom of the saucepan using rubber spatula. Scatter half of onion mixture evenly over rice, then place chicken thighs, skinned-side up, on top of onions. Evenly sprinkle with cilantro and mint, scatter remaining onions over herbs, and then cover with remaining rice. Pour the reserved cooking liquid evenly over rice.
  • Cover saucepan and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes.
  • Uncover, and run heat-proof spatula around the inside rim of the saucepan. Loosed any affixed rice and fold the rice onto itself. Cooked rice should now be on top and any uncooked rice will be on the bottm.. Cover and cook for another 15 minutes until the chicken is completely cooked through.
  • To Serve: Using a large serving spoon, spoon biryani into individual serving bowls. Spoon about a tablespoon of yogurt sauce on top, if desired.
  • For the Yogurt Sauce:
  • Combine first four ingredients in small bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand at least 30-45 minutes to blend flavors. Serve with biryani.

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