Chicken marinated in a spiced yoghurt is placed in a large pot, then layered with fried onions (cheeky easy sub below!), fresh coriander/cilantro, then par boiled lightly spiced rice.

The crowning glory is to finish it off with a drizzle of saffron infused water to give it the signature patches of bright yellow rice, as well as ghee (or melted butter) for buttery richness.

The pot is then covered and cooked over a low heat for about 25 minutes during which time the rice absorbs the aromas and flavours of the curry underneath, whilst still being beautifully fluffy.

Preparation steps for Biryani

That moment when you lift the lid and are greeted with this sight…

Preparation of Chicken Biryani in a white Chasseur cast iron pot, fresh off the stove

…. that moment is only second to this: when you dig deep into the pot, ensuring you get some of every layer, and the full force of the aroma from the curry buried deep under the rice hits you, and it takes every single bit of will power to gravitate that spoon towards a bowl instead of attempting to shove that entire giant scoop in your mouth….

Serving Chicken Biryani from a white pot, showing the chicken curry and rice layers

OK wait. Did you almost lose control too?

I’m almost done. Bear with me – just want to show you a few more things before handing over the recipe!


There’s subtle flavourings used for the rice, and a load more used for the curry sauce.

There’s a lengthy list but there’s nothing exotic here, you can find all these spices at everyday supermarkets here in Australia. Some recipes call for Asafoetida which is an Indian spice that requires a trip to an Indian grocer. We tried it with and without, and I swear we could not taste a difference. So we don’t use it. 🙂

Spices for Chicken Biryani


Thin slices of onion fried until sweet and a bit crispy, this is used as one of the layers in the Biryani as well as a garnish for serving.

If you aren’t a fan of deep frying or are a beginner cook, my cheeky alternative is using store bought fried onion (Asian or Indian stores) or Asian Fried Shallots (pictured below) which are sold at everyday supermarkets. They add the same oniony flavour with the added bonus of extra crunch!

Fried Onions for Biryani


Another recipe ticked off the Recipe Request list, another RecipeTin family effort!!

As always, we love to look to the pros to build a starting point for recipe inspiration. We ate biryani at our favourite specialty restaurants in Sydney, Pakistani chain Student Biryani in Auburn, and the Indian restaurant Paradise Biryani House in North Strathfield.

To learn the techniques, we looked at a few books (love the local library!), dozens of internet pages and Youtube videos from home cooks in India.

Yes the ingredients list is long – but you’ll find everything at the supermarket. And while there are a number of steps to make Biryani, it is actually quite a straightforward recipe(Video is helpful too!)

And even if yours doesn’t turn out perfect, don’t be put off because even less than perfect biryani is still delicious (we happily scoffed the first few test batches despite the flaws!).


Chicken Biryani in a rustic black bowl with yellow saffron rice, garnished with crispy fried onions, coriander and minted yoghurt, ready to be eaten

Chicken Biryani


  • 750g (1.5 lb) chicken thighs , skin on, bone in, halved along bone (Note 1)


  • 2/3 cup (150 ml) yoghurt , plain
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) water
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (or other plain oil)
  • 6 garlic cloves , minced
  • 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (adjust spiciness to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp garam marsala (Note 2)
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp paprika , sweet / ordinary (not smoked)
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt


  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 10 cloves
  • 5 dried bay leaves
  • 1 star anise
  • 6 green cardamon pods
  • 2 1/4 cups (450g) uncooked basmati rice (Note 3)


  • 2 medium onions (yellow, brown) , halved and finely sliced
  • 1 cup (250 ml) oil , for frying


  • 1 tsp saffron threads (loosely packed) (Note 5)
  • 2 tbsp warm water


  • 1 cup coriander / cilantro , chopped
  • 1/4 cup (60g) ghee or unsalted butter , melted (Note 6)


  • Crispy onions (above)
  • Chopped coriander / cilantro
  • Yoghurt (Note 7)


  • Mix Marinade in a large pot (about 26cm / 11″ diameter). Add chicken and coat well. Marinade 20 minutes to overnight.


  • Bring 3 litres / 3 quarts water to the boil, add salt and spices.
  • Add rice, bring back up to the boil then cook for 4 minutes, or until rice is just cooked still a bit firm in the middle. Rice will taste salty at this stage, disappears in next stage of cooking.
  • Drain immediately. Set aside. (Note 10 re: leaving whole spices in)


  • Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Cook onion, in batches, for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown. Don’t burn – they become bitter.
  • Remove onto paper towel lined plate. Repeat with remaining onion.


  • Place in a bowl, leave for 10 minutes+.


  • Place pot with chicken in it onto a stove over medium heat. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Remove lid. Cook for 5 minutes, turning chicken twice.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Turn chicken so skin side is down – it should cover most of the base of the pot.
  • Scatter over half the onion then half the coriander.
  • Top with all the rice. Gently pat down and flatten surface.
  • Drizzle saffron across rice surface in random pattern, then drizzle over ghee.
  • Place lid on. Return to stove over medium heat.
  • As soon as you see steam, turn down to low then cook for 25 minutes.
  • Remove from stove, rest with lid on for 10 minutes.


  • Aim to serve it so you get nice patches of yellow rice, white rice, the curry stained rice + chicken (rather than all mixed up). To do this, use a large spoon and dig deep into the pot, and try to scoop up as much as you can in one scoop.
  • Turn out into bowl – or onto platter. Garnish with remaining onion and coriander with yoghurt on the side (see Note 7 for Minted Yoghurt)

Recipe Notes:

1. Cut the chicken along the bone, keeping the bone in. So one half will have no bone, the other will have the bone.

Skin on bone in thighs is the safest to use (forms a protection barrier on base) and yields juicy chicken. Even if you overcook, worst case is crispy chicken skin which protects the flesh and rice. Next best is boneless chicken thighs.

I take no responsibility for outcome if breast is used! But here is how I would do it: use whole breast, remove chicken from marinade, simmer marinade on low until it’s almost like a paste. Squidge raw breast back in the “paste”, then follow recipe starting with the onion and coriander layers. This will reduce the time the breast is cooking so keep it as juicy as possible

2. Garam Masala is an Indian spice mix and you’ll find it in the spices aisle at every day supermarkets in Australia.

3. Can be substituted with jasmine or long grain rice but be aware that the fragrance will be slightly different. Still super tasty!

4. For an easy sub, use store bought crispy fried shallots or onions. The shallots are found in the Asian section of every day supermarkets and Asian stores (cheaper!). Get plenty! Use some in the biryani and lots for garnish!

5. Saffron brings a unique flavour to the rice as well as the vibrant yellow colour. But it’s not cheap! If you’re budget doesn’t extend to saffron threads, use the economical saffron powder which is not pure saffron. Mix 1/2 tsp powder with the water and proceed with recipe.

6. Ghee is clarified butter, follow steps in my Movie Popcorn recipe to make ghee. Otherwise, you’ll find it in the Indian section of some supermarkets (Coles, Harris Farms), or Asian stores. Otherwise, just use butter – not a deal killer here!

7. Plain yoghurt is fine. Here’s a quick Raita (Minted Yoghurt, pictured & in video): Mix 1 1/2 cups plain yoghurt with 1/3 cup finely chopped mint leaves with a good pinch of salt and a touch of water to loosen consistency if needed.

8. Vegetable Biryani – Made it and loved it! Choose any vegetables you like. Suggestions: Capsicum, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, potato, zucchini, peas. Chop into pieces that will roughly be done at the same time when stewed, so that you have about 8 cups in total. Additionally, slice one onion.

Mix the marinade ingredients in a separate bowl, with the following changes: 3/4 cup of yoghurt; 300ml /1 1/4 cups water ; 1 tbsp garam marsala; 1 tbsp ground coriander; do not include vegetable oil in the marinade. Use all other spices per recipe.

Saute the onion in 4 tbsp of vegetable or coconut oil. When starting to colour, add vegetables (except peas, if using) and marinade. Bring to a simmer and stew the vegetables until they are 50% cooked (softened but still firm), remove from heat. Stir in the frozen peas, if using. Continue with the remaining rice cooking, assembly and cooking steps as per main recipe.

9. Other proteins: Goat, lamb, beef, rabbit. Cut so the meat is jam packed and covers the base of the pot. Add water to marinade so meat is mostly covered, place lid on an simmer on medium low for as long as required so it’s pretty tender. It might take 1 hour or longer, depending on what you use. When tender, remove lid and let the sauce reduce down to about 1 to 1 1/2 cups. Then proceed with recipe.

* Scaling recipe (click on servings and scale) – must scale pot size up/down
* Salt – yes you really need 2 tbsp salt to par boil the rice. The rice will taste salty at this stage but the salt comes out of the rice during the second stage of cooking. Trust me, you need that much salt in the water!
* Spiciness is mainly from cayenne, a bit from garam masala. So adjust to taste.
* Fresh spices – use fresh spices, not ones that have been sitting around in your pantry for years!
* Whole spices – the whole spices are typically left in the rice. They soften when cooked so to me it’s not a big deal, I’ve never found it off-putting. If you’re really concerned, either pick them out just before layering in the pot or wrap the spices in a small muslin or cheesecloth.

11. Storage – Leftovers keep well for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. Reheat in microwave. As rice is not quite as moist with leftovers, best to serve with yoghurt (even plain is fine). Even freezing should be fine, haven’t tried it but rice and curry both freeze great so I see no reason why this wouldn’t freeze well.

Make Ahead – These are the things that can be done ahead: Par Boil the rice up up to 24 hours ahead of using. Marinate the chicken and cook it per recipe up to the point before rice covers it up to 2 days ahead. OR leave the marinated chicken in the freezer for up to 48 hours. Make saffron water and onion. Then on the day of, assemble the biryani layers and cook per recipe!

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