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Friday, February 21, 2014

Biriyani

I start this blog after making a good biriyani today 





The regal queen Mumtaz  wife of Shah Jehan the great Mughal emperor of India who built the Taj Mahal in her memory would had stepped into her Army barracks to view her soldiers and felt that many were undernourished ,she may have  instructed the royal chefs to concot a dish that would be wholesome but also easy to make and thus was born the Biriyani !
so goes a story of how Biriyani was born
A melding of meat in flavoured rice in its juices with the aroma of oriental spices ,
with such an origin how can the dish not be anything but exotic

Of course this was just one version of Biriyanis history one amongst many
In Farsi Persias language Beryan means roasted ,,the Persians had roasted thier rice with ghee and spices and stocked it with meat ,and they say with the Mughal invasion it traveled to North India and later to down south .
This is vehmently opposed by another school of thought which argues that the North of India were traditional wheat eaters and Biriyani had emerged from the rice eating south India

,OOnu Shoru which means meal rice in Tamil  was such a dish that existed in second century BC and was said to be  used to feed the armies !,
Another tale tells of Arab traders coming to Malabar by boat for trade had  brought their recipe of rice with mutton with them which slowly turned into the famous Malabari or Tellichery Biriyani .

The language Urdhu too they say emanated from the battle fields as a language of the armies but here too there are conflicting versions on this .
Biriyani was traditionally cooked in earthenware and was said to be even buried under hot sands to mature !

the Dum Pukth of Awadhi cuisine was known for this type of  slow cooking ,
basically most Indian cooking itself is  slow cooking where the spices blend and the juices meld into creating the unique flavours .
The present Dum biriyani is cooked in huge vessels where the half cooked rice and mutton get fully cooked in slow heat en-captured in  a sealed vessel over which coal or other source of heat is kept ,the air tight sealing is usually done with wheat based edible glue called maida which is pasted to the edges of the cover of the vessel .
The long thin flavored Basmati rice is traditionally used in most Biriyanis save some from the south like the Tellicherry or Malabari Biriyani which uses Khaima rice roasted in ghee ( short and stouter )
so do the Dindigul biriyani from Tamilnadu of which a subspeices is the now popular Thalakapettu Biriyani which is even copyrighted !

The Ambur Biriyani of Tamilnadu tradition-ed by the Arcot kings ,vassals of the Mughal emperor Aurangazeb is well known for its richness , they have two varieties rice in mutton  usually given in marriages of richer families and mutton in rice for more commoner ones !
The world famous Hyderabadi Biriyani is known for its unique quality and richness .
The Paradise restaurant is a well known eating joint for Hyderabadi Biriyani .
 I do remember going there once during a crowded lunch time and was guided to the tented terrace which had huge air coolers to ward of the hot Hyderabadi summer blending with the spicy Biriyani and burning its hungry  patrons !

In yesteryear Madras where I grew up a visit to the Buhari hotel  opposite the central station to taste their fine limbed Basmati biriyani and bite into their crunchy samosas was a special treat looked forwards to .

Todays Chennai has hundreds of Biriyani joints both eating places or those which give as take away packets at a phone call away ,

in Kochi in kerala  the Kaayikaans was the name of a very popular hotel in the bylanes of Mattancherry and a non descript small place tucked between duty free shops sold one of the most exotic Biriyanis served in green plantain leaves .one could see the legendary Kayikan himself in his  shirtless glory shimmering with pride as his satisfied patrons wend their belching way out ,
no luxury equivalent built by his sons in posh Ernakulam today could beat that original .
The kolkata biriyani brought to its shores by Wajid ali Shah the Nawab of Awadh who was exiled into Calcutta but  did not forget to bring his chef along specially  the one  known for his talent in Dum Pukth cooking style ,the chef in his  present dire straits of being a chef of an exiled Nawab would add potatoes to compensate for the paucity of mutton pieces and thus Kolkata biriyani was made richer by potatoe being  an important ingredient .

 in Ustaad Hotel a Malayalam  film on a small hotel in the Calicut beach known for its flavoured Biriyani ,Thilakan the veteran actor in his role as a cook cum owner of the hotel would ridicule the potatoe as a vegetable which left  its goddam taste in anything oneit was  pus it into  !

the film  Ustaad hotel itself was  styled after the Zains a homely small place in calicut beach known for its homely cuisine and biriyanis ,any self respecting Auto driver in kozhikode would thrum his way to Zains if his passenger happened to mention the word Biriyani

To me Biriyani has always been a favorite
,it is  literally vestigial and has brought back nostalgia to several incidents in my childhood where my tongue was tingled by its taste
there was a big family staying next to our house and among st the kumaraswamies there was one uncle who could make a mean  Biriyani with the deft of a hand and many an occasion we had tucked into the delights prepared by this artiste
mostly Biriyani chefs in marriages are all men and the main cook would   fling the spices in quit nonchalance while his minions sealed the huge cauldrons of rice boiling in gravy with thousands of boiling onions and tomatoes and sprinkle their tops with burning coals while their heavenly aroma would fill  the atmosphere ,then the great man would descend on the scene for his penultimate role of breaking the seal which was his befitting privilege and with a wrinkle of his creative nose would then declare his review as a good Biriyani fit for the Gods .


To me making a fine Biriyani has been a consistent struggle  over the ages


I had  graduated from making  reasonably good  fried rice where flicking the rice in the hot tawah with the sauces was a more kindergardenish effort than  to  attempt  on a Biriyani
over time after listening intently to varevah cooking and vachef and his Biriyani tips in the you tube I slowly learnt the art of making a passable Biriyani which would not be named otherwise by anyone eating it .
but still perfection eluded my trails and tribulations .

this blog comes as a celebration after a reasonably successful effort where I was even  complimented by my wife a well known Dum Biriyani expert !

From washing and soaking the fine Basmati rice in spices and leaving it if possible overnight for it to become tender to ,marinating the meat or chicken in yoghurt with some red chilly powder salt and spices to be soaked in it for hours
 I had  finely cut the  onions and fried them in hot oil till they became red in color the spices were then heated in oil with ginger and garlic to take their raw taste away and later mulched in a mortar and pestle  till they were ground to a fine powder ,adding them to the onions and adding tomatoes and later green chillies and the meat along with some ghee and saffron and allowing them to be  half cooked specially  the meat and to become a fine gravy .

To me cooking is  creativity  and like writing if I am in the mood for it turns out well ,
like all creative efforts it gets its soul only if one is passionate about it and .like the bhava of music the special effect comes only if it rises from within

The washed and soaked Basmati rice would then be half cooked in another vessel ( the timing of rice cooking is the most important one for a good Biriyani it should be taken off the fire when the rice starts dancing in the boiling water and is just slightly soft but not more later the rice separated from the water is transferred to the meat gravy pot and strewn in layers of meat and rice alternating ,and then the vessel is covered air tight with if possible some heat source on top or bottom or in oven and slow cooked for more than half an hour ,one cuts the fire but does not succumb to the temptation of opening the vessel as the rice and spices and meat would still keep melding into each other and then finally I did  open and slightly stir the layers together and out  emerged  a Biriyani worth its salt
I did it today
made my Biriyani
hoorah 

3 comments:

Kannan said...

Hari,

Congratulations on your successful(Kanni)attempt in making delectable Biriyani. Being a vegetarian, I have not had the pleasure of savoring Murgi or Ghosht Biriyani. I do occasionally have a dab at vegetable Biriyani (either made by Manju or from one of the Dubai restaurants)but I am sure that is no substitute to the real Biriyani - original Hyderabadi, Ambur or Tellichery Malabari Biriyanis.

Whenever I visit Chennai I do see a lot of Thalappa Kattu Biriyani Restaurants in various parts of the city and used to wonder what has a Biriyani got to do with Thalappa Kattu (Turban) until one of my friends (obviously a non-vegetarian)clarified that the restaurant is a family franchise, using the secret recipe of a Rawther from Dhindukkal or Dindigal and the Rawther always used to wear a turban and hence the name Thalappa Kattu Rawther and his Biriyani Recipe is passed on as a family secret from one generation to the next. Isn't that interesting?!!

Kannan said...

Hari,

Congratulations on your successful(Kanni)attempt in making delectable Biriyani. Being a vegetarian, I have not had the pleasure of savoring Murgi or Ghosht Biriyani. I do occasionally have a dab at vegetable Biriyani (either made by Manju or from one of the Dubai restaurants)but I am sure that is no substitute to the real Biriyani - original Hyderabadi, Ambur or Tellichery Malabari Biriyanis.

Whenever I visit Chennai I do see a lot of Thalappa Kattu Biriyani Restaurants in various parts of the city and used to wonder what has a Biriyani got to do with Thalappa Kattu (Turban) until one of my friends (obviously a non-vegetarian)clarified that the restaurant is a family franchise, using the secret recipe of a Rawther from Dhindukkal or Dindigal and the Rawther always used to wear a turban and hence the name Thalappa Kattu Rawther and his Biriyani Recipe is passed on as a family secret from one generation to the next. Isn't that interesting?!!

jith said...

Very nicely presented....i like the Homely Biriyani very much..which always have a different taste and flavors..really enjoyed your blog..

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