Mumbai, Apr 8 (PTI) There can be nothing better than a plateful of the quintessential `biryani’, made with succulent pieces of meat or vegetables, feel food lovers.
And why not! Because biryani is not just a wholesome meal, but a taste explosion in every mouthful, invoking nostalgia of relishing the most royal and iconic dish of all times.
Originally from Persia and introduced in India by Mughal rulers, this burst of flavours is as much a delight to eat as for the chefs to dish out a perfect pot of biryani, where every grain of rice is separate, yet infused with aromas of various spices and the meat or vegetables paired with it.
So, with this daunting task in hand, celebrity chef Ajay Chopra is not wrong in saying that cooking a perfect biryani is always a “nail-biting finish”.
“Every time I make biryani, it’s a new challenge because this is one dish that can toss you out every single time, right from the quality of rice, the quality of meat to its cooking time. It is always a wait-and watch game,” he tells PTI.
“Obviously, experience helps you to get it right but it is a nail-biting finish. But it’s such a joy to see when the lid is opened and the rice is fragrantly separate and well cooked,” says the Mumbai-based food expert.
But with people craving for innovation and experimentation, is the biryani not getting competition from exotic rice preparations like pilaf, risotto, or the traditional and comparatively easier to make pulao?
“Every rice preparation, whether it is pulao or risotto, has its own unique characteristics. What makes biryani stand apart is the slow `dum’ cooking process (steaming the dish in a vessel generally sealed with flour dough),” says Chopra, who hosts the “Northern Flavours” show on television.
“But if we just understand the process of how biryani comes together, then we admire it even more. All the other rice preparations like risotto are cooked together with the meat or flavourings, but biryani generally is a complex mix of flavours which is layered and the stronger flavours rise from the bottom and travel to the top,” he explains.
US-based Indian chef Aarthi Sampath, who recently won a popular culinary competition `Beat Bobby Flay’ by making her signature biryani, shares a similar view.
“I feel elated for the opportunity to represent Indian culture in the western market. Biryani although is a nostalgia to others, it’s still not very much known, rather the complexity of making it,” she says.
Her memories of the dish go back to childhood days, when her mother cooked Sunday lunch of the “heavenly goat biryani” and fried chicken, and the family would sit on the floor, gorge on the food while watching their favourite TV serials.
“Biryani is one of the most iconic dishes of India which makes it very popular globally. It’s flavorful rice and meat or vegetable, and the world loves that.
“In NYC (New York City), there are so many biryani stores feeding hungry school kids, offices and families,” says the chef who worked in a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant in New York before starting her own food truck in Seattle.
According to her, biryani has its origins in Persian cooking. The Mughal emperors of India partook in this delicious rice concoction during their royal feasts.
“Biryani originated in Iran. The Islamic Persians introduced biryani to the world. The word `birian’ (in Persian) means fried before cooking. The Mughals who set shop in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Hyderabad and Lucknow had their own versions of biryani influences,” she says.
“The biryani prepared in Persia had subtle flavors, while the Mughal khansamas (the male chefs who often assumed the role of house steward) introduced the use of whole spices which enhanced its aroma and flavour,” says Chopra.
“With Mughals, the biryani travelled across India. We find many different styles in India, like the Awadhi biryani or pakki biryani, Hyderabadi biryani or kacchi biryani, the Moplah style biryani from Kerala using short grain jeera masala rice, the Sindhi Memon biryani, or the Bohri biryani, to name a few,” he says.
Sampath says the Hyderabadi version uses a ground spice blend and can be spicy, while the Lucknowi one uses whole spices. The south has several versions of this delicacy but it s usually not layered. They may use coconut milk as a part of the liquid component in the cooking process.
Biryani is one of those traditional dishes which has largely escaped innovation.
“But I’ve noticed, as cliched it may sound, the best way to make a biryani, is keeping it as traditional as possible. Why mess with perfection?” she says.
“I’ve heard requests for shrimp or seafood biryani sometimes. It s not possible to cook a seafood biryani traditionally without overcoming the seafood. It can be a pulao where both the rice and seafood can be cooked separately and mixed together.”
Over a period of time, there have been some modifications in the traditional goat meat biryani, by replacing it with chicken, prawns, or various vegetables, jackfruit or `koftas’ (savoury balls of minced meat or vegetables), says Chopra.