City Food – Moradabadi Biryani, Around Town
Battle of the biryanis.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
They had it coming. Big powers squabble among themselves only to lose out to smaller ones. Take megacities like Delhi, Calcutta and Hyderabad. They are forever fighting over whose biryani is better. Lucknow isn’t as big but it’s the capital of the country’s biggest state, and it too has ego issues for its biryani. As tensions continue between these cities, a much smaller city is winning the race.
Rude people might dismiss Moradabad as provincial. The less ignorant are aware of the UP city’s reputation as the center of brass handicrafts industry. Now it’s becoming wildly famous for what is called Moradabadi biryani. Little shacks selling this version of the rice dish have lately mushroomed across the Delhi region—from Ghaziabad to Gurgaon. But Moradabadi biryani remains a puzzle. Some street sellers identify its characteristic feature with lots of green chillies, others give other reasons (like the simultaneous cooking of raw chicken with rice). No unanimity exists on the biryani’s distinguishing uniqueness. Celebrated Gurgaon-based food writer and scholar Pushpesh Pant goes to the extent of calling this biryani a fake. He says: “If you can slap chicken and rice together, and spike the dish with spices, cook it in oil and with lots of chillies to create a biryani along the National Highway, and call it Moradabadi that invades Delhi, then what stops me from improvising on recipes purloined from friendly dhabas and call it my Moradabadi Biryani Recipe?”
Here is his recipe of the Moradabadi biryani.
Chicken 750g (skin removed, cut, cleaned, washed)
Rice 500g (long grained, sela easier to handle, soaked in water for 20 minutes)
Onion 1 (large, peeled and thinly sliced)
Garlic 1 (small pod)
Garlic-ginger paste 1 tbsp
Green chillies 100g (washed, ground to paste)
Star Anise 1
Cinnamon stick 1×1 inch piece
Brown Cardamom 1
Mace few blades
Fennel powder 2 tsp
Garam Masala 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Ghee 1 cup
Kawara water 1 tsp
Grind all the whole spices and chilies in a mixer. Prepare a marinade mixing all the ground whole spices and green chili, garlic-ginger paste with curd. Apply it to the chicken and keep it aside for 30 minutes.
Heat ghee (we eschew oil as we are treating ourselves, ditto for ghastly red edible colour) and fry the onions till a rich brown. Remove half and reserve for garnish. Add the chicken with the marinade and fry on high flame for 4-5 minutes stirring regularly. Pour 3 cups of water, bring to boil, add rice and clove of garlic, reduce heat to medium and cook covered for 15 minutes till water is absorbed. Sprinkle fennel powder and garam masala powder evenly. Drizzle with kewra water. Garnish with fried onions and prepare to dig in. Nothing subtle or sublime about this robust seduction encountered while walking the streets.
Moradababdi biryani in an eatery in Mehrauli