Lamb Biryani

Madhur Jaffrey's flavoursome lamb biryani is studded with onions, sultanas and almonds and topped with hard boiled eggs
By Madhur Jaffrey
Lamb Biryani
  • Rating:
  • Serves: 6
  • Cook Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes plus 3 hrs soaking
  • Effort: medium


  • 450 ml long grain rice, measured in a glass measuring jug
  • 5.75 litres water, plus 3 tbsp
  • 3 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp strands saffron
  • 2 tbsp milk, warm
  • 3 onions, peeled
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 cm cube ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 4 tbsp flaked almonds
  • 13 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp sultanas
  • 750 g lamb shoulder, cut into 2.5cm cubes
  • 250 ml natural yogurt
  • 5-6 cloves
  • 0.5 tsp black peppercorns
  • 0.5 tsp cardamom seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2.5 cm cinnamon sticks
  • 0.16 nutmeg
  • 25 g unsalted butter
  • 0.25 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and at room temperature


1. Wash the rice in several changes of water. Drain it and put it in a large bowl. Add 2 litres water and 1 tbsp of the salt. Mix and soak for 3 hours.

2. Put the saffron threads in a small, heavy (preferably cast-iron) frying pan set over a medium heat. Toss the threads about until the turn a few shades darker. Put the warm milk in a small cup. Crumble the saffron into the warm milk and soak for 3 hours.

3. Cut 2 of the onions in half, lengthwise, and then cut the halves into fine half-rings. Set these aside. Chop the remaining onion very coarsely. Put this chopped onion, garlic, ginger, 2 tbsp of the almonds and 3 tbsp water into the container of an electric blender. Blend until you have a paste.

4. Put 6 tbsp of the oil in a 25cm, preferably non-stick, frying pan and set over a medium-high heat. When hot, put in the onion half-rings. Stir and fry them until they are brown and crisp. Remove them with a slotted spoon and spread them out on a plate lined with kitchen paper.

5. Put the sultanas into the same oil. Remove them as soon as they turn plump - which happens immediately. Put the sultanas on another plate lined with kitchen paper. Put the remaining 2 tbsp almonds into the oil. Stir and fry them until they are golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon and spread them out beside the sultanas. Set aside for use as the garnish.

6. Now put the meat cubes, a few at a time, into the same hot oil and brown them on all sides. As each batch gets done, put in a bowl.

7. Add the remaining 7 tbsp of the oil to the frying pan and turn the heat to medium. When hot, put in the onion-garlic-ginger-almond paste from the blender. Fry, stirring all the time, until the paste turns a medium-brown colour. If it sticks slightly to the bottom of the pan, sprinkle in a little water and keep stirring. Return the meat and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add the yogurt, 1 tbsp at a time, stirring well between each addition. Now put in 1.25 tsp of the salt and 150ml water. Mix and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

8. While the meat is cooking, put the cloves, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg into the container of a spice-grinder or a clean coffee grinder. Grind finely.

9. When the meat has cooked for 30 minutes, add all the spices from the spice-grinder as well as the cayenne and mix well. Cover again and continue to cook on low heat for 30 minutes. Remove cover, raise heat to medium and cook, stirring all the time, until you have about 200ml thick sauce left at the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat and spoon off as much grease as possible. The meat should be pretty well cooked by now.

10. Spread out the meat and sauce in the bottom of a heavy casserole. Cover and keep warm.

11. Pre-heat the oven to 150C/gas 2.

12. Bring 3.6 litres water to a rolling boil in a large pan. Add 1.5 tbsp salt to it. Drain the rice and rinse it off under running water. Slowly, scatter the rice into the boiling water. Bring to a boil again and boil rapidly for exactly 6 minutes. Then drain the rice.

13. Work fast now. Put the rice on top of the meat, piling it up in the shape of a hill. Take a chopstick or the handle of a long spoon and make a 2.5cm wide hole going down like a well from the peak of the rice hill to its bottom. Dribble the saffron milk in streaks along the sides of the hill. Lay the pieces of butter on the sides of the hill and scatter 2 tbsp of the browned onions over it as well. Cover first with aluminium foil, sealing the edges well, and then with a lid. Bake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven. If left in a warm place, this rice will stay hot for 40 minutes.

14. Just before you get ready to serve, quarter the eggs, lengthwise. Mix the contents of the rice pan gently. Serve the biryani on a warmed platter, garnished with the eggs, remaining browned onions, sultanas and almonds.

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