Biryani as they make it in Hyderabad

Shantanu (left) showed chef Tim O’Connor how to make biryani the way his mother made it. Photo: Peter Simpson

By Tim O’Connor

We talked a while ago about Derrick, my friend from Togo, and his love for black-eyed peas cooked in a peanut-tomato broth with a grilled fish on top. I want to tell you this time about my friend Shantanu, whom I once chased down the street because I love his food so much.

Shantanu loves talking about Indian food and showing what his food is. He comes from Hyderabad in Telangana in India, which he hails as the land of biryani.

He learned by watching his mother make Hyderabadi Dum Biryani, which is cooked with raw meat and parboiled rice in a sealed pot. This is his comfort food, his happy place.

He’s taught me how to make biryani, which is steaming your rice and finishing it over meat. The recipe with this column is his. He lines a clay pot with beef, chicken legs, goat or other meat and pours the rice over top. (You can use an enamelled cast iron pot or pressure cooker.)

Shantanu revealed to me a few things he learned in his mother’s kitchen.

First, buy quality basmati. I use Tilda – not to promote one brand over the other, but if Tilda wants to give us sponsorship, Tilda!

Second, run water over the rice until it runs clear, which allows you to cook a flaky rice. Don’t oversoak or rice will get too soft and break apart.

Third, seal the pot tightly to keep steam in. Shantanu’s traditional method uses a cover of simple dough, but tinfoil works as long as it’s snug around the pot when you put on the lid.

Fourth, make sure the meat covers the bottom of the pot so the rice doesn’t burn. Think of the chicken as a forcefield protecting the rice from a Klingon attack.

This is one of those great recipes where you can add items to your taste – but don’t put fruit in around Shantanu. I put in strawberries, and I got scolded.

When you take off the lid, the rice looks white, but scoop everything up and the rice turns that beautiful yellow colour. With those bold flavours in such a simple dish, no wonder it’s one of India’s favourite meals.

Tim O’Connor was born and raised in the Glebe and is head chef at Flora Hall Brewing.

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