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.

Marcia Kiesel
Recipe by Food & Wine March 1999


Recipe Summary



Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.