Fish Biryani

Making a biryani needs time and patience but it's love at first bite when Reza Mahammed and Faiza cook this richly aromatic fish and rice dish
By Reza Mahammad
Fish Biryani
  • Rating:
  • Serves: 4
  • Cook Time: 1.5 hours 30 minutes
  • Prep Time: 1.25 hours 15 minutes
  • Effort: hard



  • 500 g seer, haddock or hake, skinned and filleted
  • vegetable oil, for shallow frying

For the Spice Coating:

  • 1 tbsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp water, to moisten

For the Masala:

  • 25 g clarified butter, (ghee)
  • cardamom pods
  • 2 cloves
  • 3 cm cinnamon sticks
  • 3 green chillies, chopped
  • 2 clove garlic, chopped
  • 25 g ginger, shredded
  • 3 tbsp coriander, chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped mint
  • 4 red onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 250 ml water

For the Crisp Onion Mixture:

  • 4 onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 100 g cashew nuts, unsalted
  • vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • 2 tbsp raisins

For the Rice Mixture:

  • 25 g clarified butter, (ghee)
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 2 x cinnamon sticks
  • 2 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 cm ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 green chillies, chopped
  • 2 tbsp coriander, chopped
  • 500 g basmati rice, rinsed and soaked in cold water for 15 minutes
  • 1 litres boiling water

For finishing:

  • a generous pinch of strands saffron, soaked in 6 tbsp warm water for one hour
  • a few drops of rose essence


1. Slice the fish into 1cm thick slices. For the spice coating: mix the chilli powder, turmeric, garam masala and salt in a small bowl. Spoon enough water to moisten and rub this mixture over each piece of fish.

2. Shallow-fry the fish in hot oil until crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on absorbent paper. Set aside while you make the sauce for the fish.

3. Heat the ghee in a large saucepan and toss in the cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon. After a few seconds, add the garlic, ginger and green chillies and fry for about 2-3 minutes before adding the coriander and mint.

4. Tip in the onions and fry until they turn golden in colour. Add the tomatoes followed by the coriander powder, chilli powder and turmeric and stir and fry for a minute or so. Pour in the water and reduce the sauce over a moderate heat until it thickens. This should take around ten minutes.

5. Place the fried fish pieces in the sauce and coat with the hot spice masala. Cover the pan and leave on one side for ten minutes so that the fish absorbs the spicy flavours from the sauce.

6. For the onion mixture: deep-fry the sliced onions in hot oil until crisp. Drain on absorbent paper and mix with the garam masala. Deep-fry the cashew nuts in the same oil and add to the onions along with the raisins. Leave them on one side while you make the rice.

6. For the rice: heat the ghee in a large saucepan and toss in the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. Swirl the spices around for a moment before adding the garlic, ginger, green chillies and coriander. Tip the drained rice into the pan and stir and fry for two minutes over a low heat.

7. Pour in the boiling water and simmer the rice for about ten minutes until it has absorbed all the water and the grains are fluffy.

8. Sprinkle about one-third of the crisp onion mixture over the fish in the saucepan. Place a half-inch layer of rice over the fish followed by another sprinkling of crisp onion mixture.
Continue with alternate layers of onion and rice, saving about three tablespoons of rice for the topping. Save one tablespoon of the onion mixture for the garnish.

9. Drizzle the biryani with the soaked saffron strands and soaking liquid and sprinkle over a few drops of rose water. Spoon the remaining rice over the saffron streaked rice.

10. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and simmer on a very low heat for ten minutes. Carefully separate the pieces of fish from the rice in the pan.

11. Spoon the rice onto a serving plate and arrange the fish in a bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining crisp onion mixture before serving.

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