This dish is a true labor of love and brings back a flood of memories. Mom slaved over it for days and fed close to 40 people at each of our family celebrations back in Mumbai. Biryanis date back to the 1600’s when Mughal emperors entertained and feasted on it.This signature dish cannot be thrown together in a rush. It demands love; patience; attention to detail and a bit of planning ahead. But when you take your first morsel of saffron-kissed rice and melt-in-your-mouth Indian-spiced lamb be prepared for a symphony of flavor to explode in your mouth. Open a bottle of your best wine: this lamb feast is fit for a king and calls for nothing less than a celebration!
Portland Press Herald’s (brilliant) Food Writer Meredith Goad captured the back story on this special family recipe in her new column: Signature Recipes. Meredith watched me make this dish from scratch and then we feasted on it together (just so she would know what the hype was all about!) I also would like to thank John Patriquin, PPH photographer who was so engaged during the demonstration and took stunning pictures. Peggy Grodinsky, PPH Food Editor for her diligence in making sure the recipe was clear and concise so readers could enjoy making it without sweatin’ it! Thank you to the design team for the gorgeous pagination on the article too! I got the last few copies at our local grocery store for posterity, the day it came out! Check out Meredith Goad’s Signature Recipe: Mom’s Lamb Biryani
MOM’S LAMB BIRYANI
Makes 8 to 10 hearty portions
PART 1: MARINATE THE LAMB
2 cups thick Greek yogurt, beaten with a spoon
2 tablespoons turmeric
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoons garlic paste (available in tubes in the produce section of large grocery stores, or in Indian groceries)
2 tablespoons freshly ground ginger or ginger paste (available in tubes in the produce section of large grocery stores, or in Indian groceries)
2 teaspoons salt
Juice of 2 limes
4-5 pound leg of lamb cut into 2-inch pieces
Mix the yogurt, spices and lime juice together in a large glass bowl. Add the lamb pieces and coat with the marinade. Cover with plastic, refrigerate and let the meat marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
PART 2: MAKE THE GRAVY
6 tablespoons ghee or salted butter
4 yellow onions, sliced lengthwise
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 6 pieces each
2 yellow onions, chopped ( yes, another 2 yellow onions)
4 large tomatoes, chopped
2 cups chopped cilantro
Remove the marinated lamb from the refrigerator and let it reach room temperature, about 2 hours.
Add 2 tablespoons of the ghee to a medium-sized skillet. When the ghee is warm, add the white onions and sauté for about 8 minutes on medium-high heat until they start turning brown; set aside. (You should have about 2 cups.)
Add 2 more tablespoons ghee to the now empty skillet and pan-sear the potatoes on one side on medium high heat about 5 minutes, until they are crispy brown. Turn the potatoes over, cover the pan and let the potatoes steam another 5 minutes; set aside.
In a 3-quart oven-proof pot or Dutch oven, sauté the yellow onions in the remaining 2 tablespoons ghee for 5 minutes on medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes and fry for another 5 minutes. Add the marinated lamb and cook until it changes color, about 10 minutes. Add 3 cups hot water, the cilantro and the reserved lamb bone. Cover the pot and simmer on low on the stove top until the lamb is tender, approximately 11/2 hours. Resist the urge to peek!
After 11/2 hours, add the reserved pan-seared potatoes and 1 cup of the reserved caramelized onions to the pot to thicken the gravy.
Re-cover the pot and simmer for another 25 minutes.
PART 3: MAKE THE RICE
3 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons salt
4 (1-inch) cinnamon sticks
15 whole cloves
4 black or 10 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
4 Turkish bay leaves
Red 40, Yellow 5 or Yellow 6 food coloring, a few drops each
1/4 cup milk
Large pinch of saffron
While the lamb is simmering, soak the rice in 3 cups of water for 25 minutes. Run your fingers through the grains to help remove the starch; do this gently so the grains don’t break. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve.
Fill a large pot with 15 cups water and the salt. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin and bay leaves.
Bring the spiced water to a roiling boil. Gently add the basmati rice. Boil the rice until it is three-quarters of the way cooked. Keep an eye on it and check a couple of grains after 5 minutes to make sure it is parboiled and not overcooked. The grains of rice should feel a bit starchy or gritty in the middle, as if they could crack in your hand. The rice will finish cooking in the oven with the lamb.
Drain the rice, leaving in the whole spices. Pour the drained rice into the pot with the lamb. Add the food coloring.
Warm the milk, add the saffron and stir gently. Let steep for a couple of minutes at the most.
PART 4: ASSEMBLE THE BIRYANI
2 hard-boiled eggs, halved
Handful of toasted cashews
Chopped cilantroChopped mint
Pre-heat the oven to 335 degrees F.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining caramelized onions over the pot with the lamb and rice. Save the remaining caramelized onions for garnish.
Pour the warm milk mixture onto the lamb and rice in circles. Do not stir. Close the lid and bake the lamb for 35 minutes.
Arrange the lamb biryani on a large platter. Garnish with the last ½ cup of caramelized onions, the eggs, cashews and a sprinkle each of cilantro and mint.
To serve, dig a flat serving spoon into the rice, being sure to go to the bottom so you get meat, rice and potatoes in every portion.
THANK YOU to my dear friend Ted Axelrod ( Ted Axelrod Photography) for this gorgeous image.