LAMB BIRYANI (for eight)



For the lamb:

3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces

2 teaspoons salt

¾ cup ghee (recipe follows) or vegetable oil

1 pound onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise

1 cup whole milk yogurt

1 cup sour cream


For the ginger garlic paste:

one 3 by 1-1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves

1/3 cup water


For the spice blend:

one 3 inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

½ whole nutmeg

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1-1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon cardamom seeds (from about 20 green cardamom pods)

½ teaspoon crumbled mace pieces or ¼ teaspoon ground mace


For the rice:

½ teaspoon crumbled saffron threads

¼ cup whole milk

3 cups basmati rice



For the toppings:

1/3 cup shelled pistachios

¾ cup ghee (recipe follows) or vegetable oil

2 small onions, thinly sliced crosswise and separated into rings

1/3 cup sliced blanched almonds

1/3 cup golden raisins


Optional accompaniments:
Avocado, cucumber and tomato raita
Imli chatni (sweet and spicy tamarind sauce with figs and almonds)
Lemon pickle (meetha nimboo achaar)



1.Prepare the lamb: Toss lamb with salt in a large bowl. Arrange in one layer on a paper towel lined large baking sheet. Let stand for 30 minutes, then pat dry.

2. Meanwhile, make the ginger garlic paste: With the motor of a food processor running, drop ginger and garlic through the feed tube to mince. With motor running, add water, then blend until a thin paste forms. Transfer to a small bowl.

3. Make the spice blend: Combine all ingredients in a grinder and grind to a powder.

4. Cook the lamb: Heat ghee in a deep (at least 2 inches deep) 12 inch heavy skillet or pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Brown lamb in 3 to 4 batches, without crowding, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

5. Reduce heat to moderate, add onions to ghee remaining in skillet and cook, stirring, until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add ginger garlic paste and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has evaporated and fat separates out from mixture, 3 to 5 minutes. Add spice blend and cook, stirring, until fragrant and several shades darker, 1 to 2 minutes (be careful not to burn spices). Add yogurt and sour cream and bring to a boil, stirring.

6. Stir in lamb, with any juices accumulated in bowl, reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until lamb is tender, about 45 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, prepare the rice: Heat saffron in a very small heavy skillet or saucepan over low heat until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add milk and heat until warm, about 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat and let milk stand until bright yellow, about 30 minutes.

8. Rinse rice in several changes of cold water in a large bowl until water runs clear when drained from bowl. Add enough cold water to bowl to cover rice by 1 inch and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain in a sieve.

9. Cook rice in a 6 to 8 quart pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon salt), stirring occasionally, just until it still has a slightly chalky center, about 5 minutes. Drain in sieve.

10. Bake the biryani: Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 300*.

11. Transfer lamb and sauce to a 13 by 9 inch baking dish and spread in one layer. Spread rice evenly over lamb. Drizzle saffron mixture over rice. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake until rice is tender, about 30 minutes.

12. Meanwhile, prepare the toppings: Cover pistachios with boiling water and let soak for 1 minute. Drain and transfer to a kitchen towel. Fold towel over nuts and rub to remove skins.

13. Heat ghee in a 10 inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add onion and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

14. Add almonds to ghee and cook, stirring, until golden, about 30 seconds. Transfer with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

15. Add pistachios to ghee and cook, stirring, until a shade darker, about 30 seconds. Transfer with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

16. Add raisins to ghee and cook, stirring, until plump, about 30 seconds. Transfer with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

17. Garnish the biryani: Sprinkle biryani with onions, almonds, pistachios and raisins and serve with accompaniments if desired.



  • Using ghee instead of vegetable oil will give a richer flavor to the dish.
  • The lamb and sauce can be cooked up to 1 day ahead. Transfer to the baking dish and cool, uncovered, then refrigerate, covered.
  • The rice can be boiled up to 1 day ahead. Rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking, then refrigerate, covered. Fluff with a fork before topping the lamb with it. The biryani will take 5 to 10 minutes longer to bake with refrigerated ingredients.
  • The pistachios can be soaked and skinned up to 1 day ahead and kept in a sealable plastic bag at room temperature.



1 pound unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces


1.Melt butter in a medium heavy saucepan over moderate heat and bring to a boil.  Once foam completely covers butter, reduce heat to very low and cook, stirring occasionally, until a thin crust begins to form on surface and milky white solids fall to bottom of pan, about 8 minutes.  Watching constantly to prevent burning, continue to cook, without stirring, until solids turn light brown and butter deepens to golden and becomes fragrant, about 30 minutes.

2. Pour ghee through a sieve lined with a dampened triple layer of cheesecloth or heavy paper towels into a heatproof jar. Discard solids.

NOTE: Because clarified butter has a higher smoke point (the stage at which it starts to smoke and taste acrid), it’s useful for sautéing or frying; It also keeps for months.  It’s made by slowly heating butter until the water evaporates and the milk solids separate out and sink to the bottom of the pan.  Ghee is similar to clarified butter but has more flavor.  The butter is cooked longer, until the milk solids turn light brown and the liquid becomes golden, translucent and nutty-tasting.  Ghee keeps, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 months.


from Ruth Reichl (editor), Gourmet Today

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