Tuesday 5 October 2010


My all time favourite biriyani dish. I made it in the Masterchef kitchen, and even if it sounds like am bragging, I got the best comments I ever got on the show for that dish. Its relatively easy to put together, once you make the biriyani spice mix that goes with it. Its doesn't really need many accompaniments, just a simple side of yoghurt raita.

I don't claim that this recipe is completely authentic, but it has been a very much tried and tested family favourite, and fairly quick in terms of prep and cooking. You can also substitute prawns with meat or vegetables (don't marinate veggies, for the freshest flavour). I normally wouldn't post the recipe (its my secret dinner party weapon), but I've just filled up on the biriyani and it was my birthday dish, so I am feeling very generous and content :-)

I know the recipe appears long and complicated, but honestly, once you've made it one time, you'll be much much quicker the second time.

If you do try it out, please drop me a note to let me know how it went!!


Prawns and Marinade:

Around 20 - 30 raw big prawns, fresh or frozen, shelled (you can leave the tails on if you wish, add more prawns if they are smaller)
3 tbsp biriyani spice from the whole amount
3 tbsp plain yoghurt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt (or to taste)

The Sauce:

2 tbsp oil or ghee
2 medium onions or 1 big onion (chopped roughly)
20g almonds, blanched and peeled
1 - 2 green chillies, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peel and chop roughly
1 inch piece of ginger, peel and chop roughly
Big handful of fresh coriander (for grinding)
Big handful of fresh mint (same as above)
250 ml fresh set Greek yoghurt
4 large fresh tomatoes (chopped)
The remaining biriyani spice mix
Salt and Pepper (to taste, or 3 - 4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper)
Handful fresh coriander, chopped (for the end)
Handful fresh mint, chopped (same)


3 - 4 tbsp ghee, substitute vegetable oil if you wish
4 cups basmati rice
6 cups boiling water
3 generous pinches of saffron, or use turmeric, if you're feeling frugal
1 bay leaf
1 stick cinnamon
6 cloves
6 cardamom pods, crushed slightly
6 black peppercorns
1 tsp salt


½ onion sliced thinly
Sprinkle of brown sugar
Big handful unsalted cashew nuts
Big handful raisins
Rose water
More fresh coriander and mint

  1. In a big bowl, marinate the prawns in the yoghurt, spices, salt and oil, for at least 1 hour.
  2. In a wide pan, on a medium flame, add a little oil or ghee and fry the chopped onion first, until the raw smell disappears, about 5 minutes. Then add the almonds, chillies, garlic, ginger, a handful each of of fresh coriander and fresh mint. Fry together for 4 minutes. Add the remaining biriyani spice mix, and fry together for another 3 – 4 minutes.
  3. Grind this fried mixture to a very smooth paste in a fairly powerful blender.
  4. Heat the oil in a heavy pot. Tip the ground paste into it and fry, gently stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the yoghurt. Simmer in the pot for about 25 – 30 minutes until all the raw smell has disappeared, and the spices don't hit the back of your throat while tasting. Simmer for a few minutes more, if its still raw. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for another 10 - 15 minutes. Then add salt to taste.
  5. This sauce needs to be quite thick. Don’t add the prawns until the sauce is fairly thick. If the sauce is not thickening, do the following: In a small pan, heat 3 tsp ghee or oil, and then add 3 tsp of cornflour. Whisk together and fry for 2 minutes. Then add this to your sauce mixture, stirring vigorously until the sauce thickens.
  6. In a shallow pan, fry the prawns till they are just cooked through. Do not overcook them. You can also barbeque them, if you wish. Keep aside.
  7. When the sauce is fully cooked and thick, and there is no trace of raw spice in it, tip the cooked prawns, and chopped fresh coriander and mint. Stir together, and keep aside. Make sure you add the prawns at the last minute, or they will overcook in the sauce.
  8. Meanwhile, make the rice. Heat the ghee and add the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black pepper and bay leaf. Fry for about 30 seconds and add the rice and salt. Fry for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, soak the saffron in the boiling water. Add the water to the rice, cover with very tight fitting lid or aluminium foil and lid and cook on a low heat for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, check if the rice is cooked. If it is, gently fluff up with a fork and keep aside. If its not cooked, re-cover it, and leave on a very low heat for another 10 minutes.
  9. For the garnish, caramelize the sliced onion with sugar till sweet and brown. Then toss the cashews and sultanas/ raisins in the same pan, very quickly (they burn easily, so keep an eye out). Keep aside
  10. Finally, To assemble, layer the rice at the bottom of a heavy, oven safe pot (I use my big Le Creuset for this). Then put one layer of prawn and sauce mixture over it. Toss in a few caramelized onions, raisins and cashews. Sprinkle a tiny bit of rosewater. Then layer more rice, then prawns, then onion/ raisin/ cashew, then rosewater, repeating until the rice and prawn mixture are used up. The top layer should be rice. Then top the rice with the fried onion, cashews and raisins. Sprinkle a little rose water on top. Garnish with more fresh coriander and mint.
  11. If you wish, you can boil a few eggs, and put them on top.
  12. The dish is now complete. If you are making it in advance, make sure rice and prawn mix are cool before layering, and once layered, cover the dish and put in the fridge. One hour before serving, preheat the over to 175 C, then place the covered dish in the oven. Turn off the oven. Leave the pot in the oven for roughly an hour or so the check to see if the biriyani is heated through (you can also decant to a serving dish and microwave, if you wish, but you lose the layers), then serve with a raita (basically, diced cucumber, tomatoes and fresh coriander tossed with some slightly salted yoghurt, flavoured with a touch of lemon juice and chilli powder).
  13. This dish freezes well after layering. If using from frozen, make sure you defrost thoroughly, then reheat in an oven (2 hours in an oven) or microwave.
  14. My, aren't you just exhausted by now?? Time to put your feet up, and get the other halves to bring you a nice glass of wine :-)


  1. Ah, thanks for the recipe! Mine is almost similar, which I did at this year's Britain's Best dish regional final, but I got thrown out as I used Salmon which the judges didnt like!
    Always love your recipes.

  2. Aww, thanks for the compliments. Its a real shame you lost out in the contest though. Have you thought of applying to Masterchef?

  3. Oh no, masterchef is not for me! I am still a very stumbling cook, and the skillset of the Masterchef contestants simply amaze me. You were brilliant, I had followed you through out. Hope there will be a Canadian Masterchef soon and we can see you again in action.

  4. Hi,
    just bumped into your blog (through your comment on Guardian Food Blog) and find it amazing! Id like to try this recipe very soon.Would you tell me ...for how many people is this enough? thanks

  5. Hi Aza, and welcome! You've stumbled on my favourite recipe of all time :-)

    The above recipe sereves 4 people, with other accompaniments. If you're just making the biriyani, I would suggest making 1 and half times the recipe, as leftovers keep quite well. I always make a lot of biriyani, as I make up individual portions and freeze.

    Enjoy, and do let me know how you get on!

  6. Michelle, can you tell me why this biryani is not put into a oven after cooking like the other biryanis?

  7. What a wonderful combination of smoky, sweet and hot. This is a great recipe. I made this twice. And both the times it was a hit. I am a complete novice at sea food and fish cooking. I have always loved eating it and not making it. Making this biryani was very empowering for me! Thanks Mich!! Tons of Hugs!

  8. Hi Michelle,
    I just made your prawn biriyani recipe last evening. However, as it was getting late to have dinner, I ended up taking a few short cuts, specially with the masala frying time, which I guess compromised the end result. The house did smell lovely however :). Will definitely follow all the steps and stick to the cook times you mentioned next time. I did want to ask you one thing - which blender / food processor do you use? I've tried the Oster here in the US and hated it. I almost bought a Preethi one from India to carry over here but decided it would be best to order one from here than lug it all the way. I'm currently using a Bella, which kinda looks like the Magic Bullet. Nothing grinds or purees very well with it though.
    I will definitely be trying out more recipes from your blog in the days to come. Keep up the good work! :)

    1. Hi RLD, noticed I never replied. The closest blender I can recommend to Indian grinders is the Vitamix. But its brutally expensive, so really an investment. I have a Panasonic Mixer Grinder that I hauled from India, so if you are going to India, I highly recommend it.

  9. Hi Michelle,
    Being a prawn lover, I've tried this recipe two times now. The first time, I was in a hurry, so probably didn't cook the masala paste long enough, but the result was good. The second time, I cooked this while we were having company, and this time, took sufficient time preparing it. The biryani turned out much better than the first time, and we all enjoyed it a lot. However, I found that the proportion of gravy to rice was off, in the sense that there was too much gravy. What was left over after the party, was a large portion of gravy and very little rice. So, I cooked more rice and steamed it with the leftovers for our dinner next day. Is this biryani supposed to have much gravy? or were my results different because of the type of rice I used? I used Daawat Select basmati rice. maybe I should use an extra long variety of basmati? Let me know.. as I'd very much like to perfect this dish.. its a good dish to have in my repertoire..
    Thank you so much for the recipe!

    1. Hi J,

      I am not sure how you ended up with that much gravy, I usually reduce it so its very thick. Sometimes I find that the prawns release a lot of water while cooking, so that may be the problem.

      But that said, I have been increasing the rice, as I like to have lots of leftovers. So I will change my recipe to reflect that. I would suggest using twice the amount of rice than I have recommended.

      Thanks for your feedback. I am constantly revising and rewriting recipes, so your feedback is very helpful in making that happen. I am glad you liked the biriyani though :)


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