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Masala Chicken Biryani

Sadia Bukhari, the talented chef behind Seattle’s Turmeric ‘n More, shares one of her beloved recipes.

February 17, 2017

Seattle’s longest-operating food delivery service, Turmeric ‘n More, offers South-Asian transplants authentic fare from home. Click here to see our story on the owner and chef behind the food, Sadia Bukhari.

Note: This dish will be made in two stages

Serves four. 

Qorma (sauce)


  • 1-and-1/4 pounds chicken ,boneless or bone-in, washed, strained
  • 1/2  cup vegetable or olive oil
  • 3/4 pounds yellow onions, finely sliced
  • 2 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cloves, cinnamon, cumin, black cardamom pods and mace (jawatri) each, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, optional
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cups plain yogurt, low fat or fat free
  • 1-and-1/2 teaspoons salt or to taste
  • 6–8 dried plums (optional)

Ingredients for layering

  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 Jalapeño/Serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded, cut length wise (optional)
  • Fried onions
  • 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads or yellow food coloring, threads crushed and soaked in 2 teaspoons of water for one hour (a mortar and pestle could be used)
  • A few drops of Kewra or Biryani essence (optional)


  1. In an electric coffee or spice grinder, grind cumin seeds, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon until they make a fine powder. 
  2. Transfer to a bowl; add ginger and garlic paste, chili powder (optional) coriander powder, turmeric, lemon juice and salt, mix well. 
  3. Pour this spice blend over chicken, mixing and tossing together to ensure all the ingredients are coated with the marinade. 
  4. Cover. Let it sit aside at least for 30 minutes. The chicken can be marinated ahead of time left in the refrigerator for later use. Yogurt will be used at a later stage.
  5. Heat oil in a medium-sized nonstick or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, stirring occasionally until they become golden-brown in color. 
  6. Turn off the heat and quickly remove the pan away from the heat source. Using a slotted spoon, take out all of the onions. Squeeze out as much oil as possible by pressing the onions against the wall of the pan on a plate lined with folded paper towels. They get crispier as they cool off. Reserve the fried onions for sauce, layering and garnish.
  7. Bring the pot back to the stove over medium-high heat. Add yogurt to the heated oil, stir well and fry until most of the moisture from the yogurt is gone. 
  8. Stir in the marinated chicken, add half of the fried onions, mix well and let it come to a boil. 
  9. Cover and reduce heat to low. Let it cook, stirring frequently until chicken pieces get tender yet firm. Check and adjust the salt, if needed. 
  10. Add dried plums (optional). If sauce looks watery, cook uncovered for another few minutes or until most of the water has evaporated. You will see oil on the sides of the pan. 
  11. Cover, remove from heat and set aside. 

Tip: You can make the Biryani sauce ahead of time and refrigerate. Just heat and use when ready to finish the dish!



  • 2  cups basmati rice
  • 7 cups water
  • 3–4 of each small cardamom pods, cloves, bay leaves, star anise
  • 2 one-inch pieces of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced
  • 4  teaspoons salt or as desired


While the qorma/sauce is being cooked, sort and wash the rice in cold water with several changes of water to get rid of the starch clinging to the rice, then soak for 20 minutes in enough water to cover by about 2 inches.

Pour measured water in a medium sized, thick-bottomed or non-stick saucepan; add cardamom, cloves, cumin seeds, bay leaves, star anise, cinnamon, lemon slices and salt.  Bring to a boil, cover, let water and spices boil together for 10-15 minutes on medium low heat.

Drain the rice; discard the water the rice was soaked in.

Raise the heat to high, slowly add rice to it, and let it return to a full boil, give a good stir.  Boil on high heat without stirring for 5–7 minutes or until rice is not brittle though still firm (be watchful as it’s a very important step to the character/texture of the dish).

Quickly pour the cooked rice into a colander to drain, gently shake the colander to get rid of any extra water in the rice. 


  1. Arrange all the ingredients close to the pot for layering. 
  2. Immediately spread rice (reserving some for the top layer) at the bottom of the same pot or to an oven-proof dish. You may remove whole spices from the sauce at this point.
  3. Spread all of the qorma/sauce over the rice; sprinkle chopped cilantro, mint, Jalapeño peppers, optional and fried onions over the qorma/sauce. Spread remainder of the rice over sauce.
  4. Dribble saffron extract /color in the center of and on the sides of the dish. This layering process should be completed as quickly as possible to keep the precious steam intact. 
  5. Carefully add a couple of drops of kewra essence (optional) and cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil. 
  6. Place the pan on the middle rack in a preheated 350º F oven for 8–10 minutes, or until the rice has dried out and is soft. If using a saucepan, always raise your pot above the heating source.  You may place a Chinese wok ring or a heat diffuser (a used griddle works best) to avoid any burning or sticking to the pan.
  7. Remove from heat, uncover and let rest for 5–7 minutes. Mix/fluff gently and evenly using a slotted spoon or spatula. Present on a wide serving platter, sprinkle reserved fried onions and serve piping hot.

    Tip: Pairs nicely with a fresh yogurt salad.