A recipe for chicken biryani, southern style

This festive chicken biryani is a labour of love. (Asha Pagdiwalla pic)

Biryani is typically a special occasion dish, famous for its many layers of flavours that slowly develop and meld together.

So, it is a multi-step process that requires much love over a long cooking time.

The flavours and the aromas from the dish come from a blend of spices that are typically not used in everyday cooking and are pricier, hence adding to the special feel.

Every region of India has its own version and flavour and South India has taken the dish beyond its Persian roots to suit the southern palate.

In the South, the meat is cooked in a coconut infused curry and the rice and curry are mixed rather than layered, as is typical with the Persian version.



  • 6 chicken drumsticks
  • 1 bunch coriander
  • 1/4 cup mint
  • 2 tablespoons ginger and garlic paste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • Salt as needed

For the curry:

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 cm chunk ginger, minced
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1/2 cup mint
  • 1 cup thick coconut milk
  • 2 cups water/broth
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • 6-7 whole cloves
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 6-7 whole peppercorns
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 3 dry bay leaves
  • Salt as needed

For the rice:

  • 3 cups Basmati rice
  • 1/2 small onion, julienned
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 cardamom pods, cracked
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons ghee
  • 5 1/2 cups water

To garnish:

  • A handful few cashews, roasted in ghee


  • Grind together the marinade ingredients. Make slits in the flesh of the drumsticks, coat with the marinade and let rest for a few hours or overnight.
  • To make the curry, sauté the onions, garlic and ginger in oil until translucent. Remove from heat and cool.
  • Grind together the cooked onions, cilantro and mint.
  • In a deep bowl, roast the whole spices in ghee until their aromas are released.
  • Return the onion mixture to the pan and cook until the oil starts separating. Add the dry spices and salt, mix and sauté for a few minutes.
  • Add the coconut milk and water and bring to a boil.
  • Add the marinated chicken pieces and cook on medium heat until the meat is fully cooked. Let the curry cool until just warm.
  • Prepare the rice. Roast the whole spices in ghee and sauté the onions. When soft, add the Basmati rice and roast for a few minutes.
  • Add water and salt and cook the rice until just done. Let it cool to warm. Do not touch the rice when hot as it is the most brittle then.
  • When ready to assemble, spread the rice in a deep dish, oven-proof pan. Add the curry a little at a time, and gently toss until the rice is wet.
  • The recipe makes more curry than needed. For three cups of raw rice, not more a 1 1/2 cups of the curry are needed.
  • Arrange the chicken pieces around the dish, cover with a bit of rice, so they do not dry out.
  • Cover the dish with foil and bake at 180ºC for 40 minutes. Check in between to see if the biryani is drying out. If so, add more curry and gently toss.
  • To serve, scoop the rice onto a platter, arrange the drumsticks and sprinkle with roasted cashews. Biryani is typically served with a simple raita made of diced raw onions in yogurt.

This recipe first appeared in Rasa Malaysia.

Asha is a contributor to Rasa Malaysia and blogs in New York at Fork Spoon Knife.