Lamb Biryani

  • on March 15, 2023

Dum-style biryani is an Indian dish that symbolizes celebration. Indian chefs have been making biryani for many generations and are often invited to make the centerpiece of the wedding feast for hundreds of guests. It’s impressive with its bronzed dome of dough, layers of rice, and braised beef. Raleigh, North Carolina, chef Cheetie Kumar disagrees. She claims that biryani is the perfect family meal. It’s like shepherd’s pie, but much more luxurious. You can make coq au vin and braised brisket if you have the ability to do so.

She recommends a few shortcuts. Purchased fried onions (preferably Indian brand, so that the onions are not covered in batter) and packaged ginger garlic paste. This cuts down on preparation time and makes lamb stew meat much more convenient. To seal the dish, she uses either frozen pie crust, paratha dough, or puff pastry. There are many components to this recipe. Kumar has made it easy to make ahead: The saffron rosewater milk and spiced yogurt marinade can be made ahead. You can prepare the lamb ahead of time and store it in the freezer until you are ready to assemble the biryani. Kumar suggests setting up a line for layering the gravy, rice, and lamb with the gravy, fried onions, dried fruits, nuts, and dried fruit into the biryani. This is a great activity for families who love to cook together.

Once the biryani has been baked, place it on the table. Then you can break through the crust and reveal the rice or lamb within. You will smell the spices of cumin, saffron and Kashmiri chili powder as the steam rises. It’s a celebration for all of us at the table. 

Use the Spiced Yogurt Marinade

In a heatproof bowl, combine hot mustard oil with freshly ground spices. Stir in tangy yogurt to combine.

Masala Paste

To make a thick spice paste, combine creamy cashews and toasted whole spices.

Make the Saffron Rosewater Milk

Toast the saffron and then cover it with milk. Add rose water to the milk and heat until it reaches scald. This floral, fragrant milk adds moisture to the rice and lamb.

Marinate the Lamb

Place lamb in a large ziplock bag. Add spiced yogurt marinade and massage lamb gently. Seal the bag by squeezing out any air. Put the bag in the fridge. Let marinate for at least 8 hours, or up to 24.

Brown Marinated Lamb

Preheat oven to 300°F. Transfer the lamb to a baking sheet with a rimmed surface. Sprinkle evenly with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Allow standing at room temperature for 30 minutes. Use paper towels to dry the lamb. In an ovenproof, 14-inch skillet or large Dutch oven, melt the ghee on medium-high heat. Cook lamb in batches. Stir occasionally until it is lightly browned on all sides. This should take between 8-10 minutes for each batch. Reduce heat if necessary to avoid scorching. Transfer the browned lamb onto a plate and set aside. Keep the skillet on medium heat.

Cook the Aromatics, Masala Paste, and Yogurt

In a skillet, add yellow onions. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the skillet with a spoon to loosen any brown bits, until golden and very soft. This should take between 12 and 15 minutes. Stir in garlic-ginger paste and cook for 2 minutes. Mix in the masala paste and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in yogurt and mix until combined.

Bless the Lamb

Mix in the stock and reserved lamb. Bring to a simmer on medium heat. Take the skillet off the heat. Place aluminum foil or an ovenproof cover on top of the skillet and seal it tightly. Bake in the oven for 1 hour, 30 minutes, or 2 hours until the lamb is no longer tender. Let the lamb cool in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the lamb from the oven and cover it with foil. Use a knife to cut any large pieces of lamb. Discard fat and tendons. Place lamb in an airtight container and let it rest for up to two days. Transfer the braising mixture from the skillet to another airtight container and let it cool for at least 8 hours, or up to 2 to 3 days.

Make the Braising Mixture

Take the braising mixture out of the refrigerator and scrape away any fat. Transfer 5 cups of braising mixture into a blender. Discard any leftover braising mixture. Blend until smooth gravy forms. This should take about 15 seconds. Mix in Kashmiri chile powder, additional chile powder as needed, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Transfer to an airtight container and let cool in the refrigerator until you are ready to use. You can store gravy in the refrigerator for up to one day.

Soak the rice

In a large bowl, combine 10 cups of water with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Stir until salt dissolves. Let rice sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. In cheesecloth, combine peppercorns with bay leaf, black cardamom pod, and green cardamom seed; tie with kitchen twine. As the rice is still soaking, mix the cheesecloth bundle with the remaining 7 1/2 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil on high. Slowly simmer for 10 minutes on medium heat.

Make the Soaked Rice

Bring water and cheesecloth bundle back to boil on medium-high heat. Mix in rice and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring to a boil on high. Stir once. Reduce heat to low. Let the rice simmer covered for 5 minutes. Adjust heat as necessary to keep it at a simmer. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment.

Let the rice cool down

Spread cooked rice in a single layer on baking sheets. Remove cheesecloth; discard spices. Let the rice cool completely for about 30 minutes. You can also make ahead by lightly packing rice in an airtight container and chilling it until ready for use.

Layer the Rice and Lamb

Assemble biryani by spreading 3/4 cup of reserved gravy on an even layer in a 13x13x2 1/2 inch round casserole dish (such as a Staub Double Handle Fry Pan or a 5-quart enameled, cast-iron Dutch oven). Place half of the chilled rice on top of the gravy. Sprinkle with the reserved lamb. Spread the remaining gravy evenly on top of the lamb. Sprinkle with half of the dried fruits, half of the nuts, and mint evenly. Spread the remaining rice evenly on top of the nuts to cover the lamb.

Serve with Nuts, Fruits, and Milk

Sprinkle with the remaining dried fruits and nuts and crispy fried onions. Sprinkle evenly with saffron rosewater milk.

Top with Paratha

Place parathas on a lightly floured surface. Press lightly to form one thick paratha. Make a round of 15 inches. Remove excess flour from the dough. Lightly brush the beaten egg around the dough’s perimeter. Lay the dough on top of the casserole dish egg-side down. Let dough drape over the sides. The dough should be used as a cover to seal the pan. To seal, press dough against the sides and edges of the casserole dish. Lightly brush the dough surface with the remaining beaten eggs. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and nigella seeds. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 12 hours.

Bake the Biryani

Preheat oven to 350°F If lamb biryani is chilled for longer than two hours, take it out of the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature until the oven heats up. Bake at 350F for 40 to 45 minutes or until the dough is golden brown. Allow resting for 10 minutes.

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