Food and Drink

A Biryani Pilgrimage Through India with 3 Classic Recipes

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Jessica Lia/Getty Images
Jessica Lia/Getty Images
Jessica Lia/Getty Images

When it comes to biryanis, one size doesn’t fit it all, and depending on which part of India you are in, a different biryani will greet you in every nook. The country has at least half a dozen versions of this dish that has become synonymous with its cuisine. But no matter how diverse they are, there are a few things that tie these variations together: ample spices, cooking it in multiple layers with all of the ingredients in their own steam, a.k.a. ‘dum’ cooking. Here are three recipes to get you started on your own biryani journey, wherever you are.

Region: Lucknow

Gosht dum biryani
By: Chef Mohammed Shareef, Kebabs & Kurries, ITC Grand Central
Lucknow is the epicenter of great biryanis and this region is known for Awadhi style of cooking. The Awadhs were essentially a branch of the Mughals with a cuisine that focuses on extracting flavors out of ingredients more than using too many spices at a time. You can say you know how to make real biryani if you’ve mastered this one.


  • 1 cup clarified butter
  • 2 tsp cloves
  • 2 tsp cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tsp bay leaves
  • 2 tsp green cardamoms
  • 2 pounds lamb pieces
  • 2 ½ tbsp ginger 
  • 2 ½ tbsp garlic paste
  • 2 ½ tbsp pre-browned onions
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 2 tsp garam masala powder
  • ¾ cup tomatoes, pre-blanched and chopped
  • 2 ½ cups basmati rice
  • 3 litres water
  • 25 ml lemon juice
  • 10 ml clarified butter
  • 10 ml of cream
  • 1 pinch Kashmiri saffron
  • 1 tbsp mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp ginger,  julienned
  • 1 tbsp brown onion (known as birista)


  • In a copper pan, heat clarified butter. Add the whole spices to this: grams cloves, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and green cardamoms.
  • Once the spices begin to crackle, add the lamb pieces to it. Stir well and add ginger and garlic paste, pre-browned onions and sauté well for about 3-4 minutes. 
  • In a separate bowl, whisk yogurt and tip it into the same pan. Continue sautéing it for 20 minutes further, until the oil begins to separate from the pan. 
  • At this point, add garam masala powder and tomatoes that have been pre-blanched and chopped. Add water and cook the dish for about 45 minutes until the lamb is tender. 
  • While this is cooking, wash and keep aside Basmati rice. In a pan, boil water and add the rice to it. You can tip in a piece or two of whole spices just for the aroma, lemon juice and cook for about ten minutes. When the rice is ⅔ done, drain and keep aside. 
  • Now comes the essential part of cooking the biryani on “dum” or cooking it in its own steam. In a pot, place the par-boiled rice at the bottom, add the cooked lamb pieces on top. 
  • Continue alternating until you have exhausted both the ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix clarified butter, cream, and Kashmiri saffron and keep aside. 
  • Top your rice with a spoonful of mint leaves, ginger juliennes, and brown onion (available readymade at Indian stores). Drizzle the milk and cream mixture on top and cover the pan with a lid. 
  • Take any homemade dough and seal the pan tightly so no air can enter in. Cook the biryani on a slow flame for 15 minutes and crack open the dough, open the lid to serve hot biryani.

Region: Kolkata

Mutton Biryani
By: Chef Sushanta Sengupta, 6 Ballygunge Place
Biryani in India will always be a gift from the Muslim royals who ruled different parts of the country during various periods of time in history. The Kolkata biryani emerged around 1856, when the last Nawab of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah was dethroned by the British and exiled to Kolkata during the reign of Queen Victoria. What separates it from a traditional and original Mughal biryani is the fact that it has an addition of potatoes, a rarity for a biryani preparation.


  • 1.75 cups clarified butter
  • 3 tsp whole spices (green cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon sticks)
  • ¾ cups finely sliced onion
  • 4 tsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 8 pieces mutton (chopped and bone-in)
  • 1 tbsp chilli powder
  • 50 ml rose water
  • 50 ml pine screw water
  • ¾ cup plain yogurt
  • 250 ml water
  • 300 ml milk
  • 4 potatoes, chopped into big pieces
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2.5 cups rice (pre-soaked for 45 minutes)
  • Salt and sugar to taste


  • In a pot, heat clarified butter. To it, add whole spices: green cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamoms, mace, nutmeg, a pinch of black peppercorns. 
  • Once the spices begin to crackle, add onions. Allow them to brown thoroughly, this should take about 7-8 minutes. Remove exactly half of these onions and spices and keep them aside. 
  • To the same pan, add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for 3 minutes. Tip in mutton. Sprinkle salt and chilli powder, rose water, pine screw water, plain yogurt and water and stir it well.  Allow this to cook on low to medium heat for about 20-25 minutes. Now pull out the mutton pieces carefully, they should be tender by now. 
  • In the same liquid add milk, salt and sugar to taste and keep this liquid aside and give it a gentle bubble.
  • In another pot, par-boil potatoes (halved) separately with turmeric powder and salt. 
  • Now take yet another pan and par-boil the rice. 
  • To make the final biryani, tip in the mutton pieces in a separate pot, tip in the potatoes on top, some liquid from the pre-cooked mutton, par-boiled rice and the saved up fried onions and spices. And layer it this way until you have exhausted all the ingredients.
  • Seal it with dough and cook it on medium heat for about 10 to 12 minutes. Rest the biryani for 5 minutes before opening the lid to eat.

Region: Kerala

Thalassery Biriyani
By: Chef Sara Jacob Nair, Nair On Fire
What distinguishes the South Indian (Malayali to be precise) biryani from its other counterparts is that it uses short-grained rice, mullan kaima. It changes the overall mouthfeel of the dish from a decadent to a comforting bowl of spiced rice dotted with rich dried fruits.


  • 2.20 pounds of chicken
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 20-25 unsalted cashews
  • 3 tbsp raisins
  • 5 tbsp clarified butter
  • 1 cup vegetable oil 
  • 2.5 cups finely sliced onion
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 50 ml milk
  • 50 ml clarified butter
  • 5 finely sliced onions
  • 15 tbsps of ginger-garlic-green chilli paste (in equal proportions)
  • 1 ½ cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1.5 cups thick yogurt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice 
  • 5 tbsp ghee
  • 3 1-inch thick sticks of cinnamon
  • 6 cloves
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 5 cups water
  • 3 cups Kaima rice, washed and drained
  • handful of mint and coriander leaves
  • salt, to taste

For the Spice Mixture:

  • 1 nutmeg
  • 2 pieces mace
  • 10 cloves
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 1-inch thick cinnamon sticks 
  • 1 ½ tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 ½  tsp shahi cumin seeds (smaller than regular cumin seeds)


  • Marinate chicken in the juice of lemons and rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, finish the prep for the garnishing elements first. 
  • Deep fry cashew nuts and raisins in clarified butter and keep aside. 
  • Empty this pan and use it once again to heat vegetable oil. In it, deep fry finely sliced onion until crispy. 
  • In another bowl, dilute turmeric powder in milk and keep aside. Finely chop a handful of mint and coriander leaves and save that too! 
  • In a pan, make your own biryani spice mix by roasting nutmeg, mace, cloves, cardamoms, star anises, cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds and shahi cumin seeds (smaller than regular cumin seeds).
  • Once the spices begin to release an aroma, take off the flame, cool and powder them. 
  • In a cooking pot, heat clarified butter and deep fry finely sliced onions. Add ginger-garlic-green chilli paste. This is available in a readymade form in Indian stores. Add salt and chicken to this and toss well. Allow it to cook for 5-7 minutes. 
  • Add 2 tbsp of pre-made biryani spice mix and toss again. Cook for 3-4 minutes further. Top it with the herbs that you had kept aside.
  • Add chopped tomatoes, thick yoghurt and a spoon of lemon juice and saute well for 1-2 minutes. Cover the dish and allow it to cook on medium heat for 15 minutes until the meat is tender. 
  • On this base, tip in 3/4th of the deep-fried onions. Dry up the excess gravy by cooking the dish on high flame, constantly stirring.
  • Take it off the flame and work on the rice for this dish. In a pan, pour ghee and add cinnamon, cloves and cardamoms. Once they begin to crackle, add water and let it come to a boil. Add the washed and drained kaima rice and bring it to a boil.  Now reduce it to a low to medium flame and cook it covered until the water has reduced to the same level as rice. 
  • Take it off the flame, but let it rest (still covered) for another 30 minutes. 
  • In a deep cooking vessel, add a layer of chicken followed by a layer of rice, followed by a spoonful of fried onions, some fried cashew nuts, some raisins, a pinch of garam masala powder, chopped herbs, a spoonful of clarified butter and drizzle the turmeric mixture. Continue this until you have exhausted all your ingredients. Cover the cooking vessel with an aluminium foil and shut it with a lid. Cook further on a slow flame for 10-12 minutes and serve hot.

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Sonal Ved is a Thrillist contributor.

Food and Drink

Red Rooster Is Serving Free Chicken and Piping Hot Cash This Christmas in July

Get your early dose of festive cheer.

Red Rooster Christmas in July
Instagram / @redrooster_au

The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.

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Terms and conditions apply. Visit Red Rooster’s Christmas in July to see all the deals.


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