Lamb Biryani

Roopa Gulati's elegant North Indian classic combines the fragrance of basmati rice with home-ground garam masala and meltingly tender pieces of lamb
By Roopa Gulati
Lamb Biryani
  • Rating:
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
  • Prep Time: plus marinating and soaking
  • Effort: medium


  • ' tsp strands saffron
  • ' tsp cardamom seeds
  • 2 blades mace
  • 4 onions
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for deep frying
  • 8 cm ginger, peeled
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 lime, juice only
  • 750 g lamb shoulder, cut into 4cm cubes
  • green cardamom
  • 6 black cardamom
  • 5 cm cinnamon sticks
  • ' tsp cloves
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 3 green chillies, deseeded and sliced
  • 200 ml Greek yogurt
  • 450 g basmati rice
  • handful mint leaves
  • 2 tbsp butter


1. Soak the saffron in 2 tablespoons of hot water and set aside until ready to use.

2. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the cardamom seeds and mace to a powder and leave on one side; you'll need this later when layering up the rice and meat.

3. Slice 2 of the onions then sprinkle them with salt and set aside for 20 minutes. Squeeze out any excess water from the onions and pat them dry with paper towels. Deep-fry the sliced onions in hot oil until golden and drain on paper towels. Set half aside for garnishing the biryani.

4. Transfer the remaining fried onions to a food processor, pour in 3 tablespoons of hot water then purée; you should have about 2 tablespoons of onion paste.

5. Finely grate half of the ginger and combine with the garlic, chilli powder, and lime juice in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the onion paste and add the lamb. Mix everything together and leave to marinate for 1 hour.

6. Dice the 2 remaining onions. Heat 6 tablespoons of oil in a large casserole pan set over a medium heat and soften the diced onions for 5 minutes, without colouring.

7. Slice the remaining ginger into fine strips and set aside. Add the green and brown cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves to the pan. Fry for about 30 seconds, until you get a warm, spicy aroma.

8. Tip in the meat and its marinade and add the garam masala, green chillies, and ginger strips. Bring to simmering point and gradually add the yogurt, a tablespoon at a time. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the lamb is tender and the masala thickened; the sauce should be well-reduced and almost clinging to the meat.

9. Cover the rice with cold water and leave to soak for 20 minutes. Ten minutes before the meat is ready, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Drain the rice and add to the pan then cook for 5 minutes - it should be half-cooked and still have bite to it. Drain the rice in a colander.

10. Preheat the oven to 160C/gas 3. Put half of the hot meat in the bottom of a clean casserole pan. Cover with half of the freshly boiled rice and sprinkle with half of the ground cardamom and mace spice mixture and half of the mint.

11. Top with the remaining meat and rice. Scatter over the rest of the spice mix, mint leaves, and the sliced browned onions that you fried in step 3. Dot the surface with butter and drizzle over the saffron and its soaking liquid. Cover the biryani with wet greaseproof (waxed) paper and a well-fitting lid.

12. Bake for 40 minutes, until the rice is perfumed and perfectly cooked. Gently fluff up the grains with a fork and serve straight from the pan.

Recipe from Curry Lover's Cookbook

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