In India, where rice is an exalted grain, the biryani is an exalted rice dish. It's typically served at weddings and festivals--anywhere there's a need to feed many people lavishly. In this version, the baked rice-and-lamb casserole is decorated with a golden wheel of saffron-infused milk and garnished with raisins, almonds and hard-cooked eggs.
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 large Spanish onions--1 thinly sliced into rings, 2 coarsely chopped
- 5 pounds trimmed boneless leg of lamb, cut into 2-inch pieces
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 tablespoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
- 1/4 cup minced fresh ginger
- 6 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 1/4 teaspoons saffron threads
- 6 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
- 1 cup chopped cilantro, plus 1 cup small cilantro sprigs
- 1 cup golden raisins (5 ounces)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 cup whole blanched almonds (6 ounces)
- 6 cups basmati rice (2 1/4 pounds)
- 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt at room temperature, whisked
- 6 hard-cooked eggs, halved lengthwise
- 1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1/2 cup of the oil. Cook half of the onion rings at a time over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until deeply browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the browned onions to paper towels to drain.
- 2. Add the lamb to the casserole in batches, season with salt and pepper and brown well on all sides. Transfer the browned lamb to a large plate.
- 3. Discard the oil in the casserole and add 1 tablespoon of fresh oil. Add the chopped onions and cook over moderate heat, stirring often, until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garam masala, cumin seeds and cinnamon and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 4 minutes.
- 4. Return the lamb and any accumulated juices to the casserole, add the ginger, garlic, turmeric, cayenne and 1/4 teaspoon of the saffron and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and chopped cilantro and bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender and the sauce is flavorful, about 1 1/2 hours.
- 5. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the raisins and cook over moderately high heat until browned on 1 side, about 3 minutes. Transfer the raisins to a plate to cool. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a bare simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and crumble the remaining 1 teaspoon of saffron threads into the milk. Let steep for up to 2 hours.
- 6. Preheat the oven to 375°. Put the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, or until toasted. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the rice for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a colander.
- 7. Stir the yogurt into the lamb and season with salt and pepper. Carefully mound the blanched rice over the lamb. Using a wooden spoon handle, make a hole in the center of the rice, moving the handle in a circle to widen the hole to about 1 inch. Spoon the saffron milk over the rice in a spokelike pattern. Cover the casserole and bake the rice for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the biryani stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
- 8.Arrange the browned onion rings, almonds, raisins, cilantro sprigs and eggs in separate bowls or arrange on a platter. Serve the biryani from the casserole and pass the accompaniments at the table.
- BEER RECOMMENDATION The best choice for the complex flavors of this dish is a beer that will refresh the palate and quickly send you back for more biryani. Kingfisher, from India, is a perfect, if obvious, choice.
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