Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thai Chicken Biryani

Spicy mint sauce accompaniment

I know, I know biryani is quintessentially Indian, a magnificently spiced dish of rice and meat, or fish or vegetables, often the centrepiece of a feast. It is a generous offering, usually made in quantities that require sharing, what's not to love? This version though is distinctively thai, and just to muddy the cultural waters further is an adaptation of (Australian) David Thompson's recipe in Thai Street Food by Andrea Nguyen on her lovely site Viet World Kitchen, the yoghurt is Greek and my kitchen is in London. How fabulously multicultural can you get?

The thing is, the last time I made biryani, a lamb one, I was disappointed. It was 'nice' I decided and that, from me, is faint praise indeed! It lacked interest, had insufficient depth of flavour and spicing, a bit ordinary, really. I wanted so much more. When I came across this recipe I was delighted - though not authentic it really ticked my boxes, seemingly offering the complexity I'd missed last time. It coincided with the offer to try some yoghurt by Total - had to be tried.

It worked brilliantly, I'm pleased to say. I made a couple of small changes to the original but it is pretty much as I found it.

Thai Chicken Biryani

Serves 6-8 very well indeed

It is slow to make but not difficult, so don't be put off by the long list of instructions. It was a pleasant way to spend Sunday afternoon with great results.

Marinated chicken

3 tablespoons coarse chopped coriander stems
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup plain yoghurt, low-fat or full-fat
8 to 10 chicken thighs - I used 1 1/2 whole chickens cut into eighths

Spicy mint sauce

1 or 2 green Thai chiles
2 slices peeled fresh ginger, chopped
2 slices peeled galangal, chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
A pinch of salt
2 cups coarsely chopped mint leaves
2 generous cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and stems
3 to 4 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 1/2 cups basmati rice
3 1/3 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons canola oil or chicken fat
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallot
3-inch piece cassia bark, or 1 1/2-inch stick cinnamon
3 Thai cardamom pods, or 1 green cardamom pod, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves and stems
1 cup chopped thai basil leaves
2 pandan leaves, tied in a knot (optional)
1/4 cup plain yoghurt


1/4 to 1/3 cup Crispy Fried Shallots
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1 small cucumber, seeded and sliced
1/3 cup Thai Sweet Chile Sauce (optional)

1. For the seasoning paste, use a mini food processor to grind the coriander stems, ginger, garlic, turmeric, salt, and sugar to a coarse texture. (Or use a mortar and pestle.) Transfer half of the paste to a bowl to marinate the chicken.

Set aside the remaining paste for the rice.

To the paste for the chicken, add the fish sauce and 1/4 cup yoghurt. Stir to blend well. Set aside.

2. Remove the skin from the chicken. (Save it for rendering instant schmaltz for the rice, if you like!) Add to the seasoning paste containing the yogurt. Stir to coat well. Set aside for 1 hour to marinate. Or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours, setting it out at room temperature to remove some of the chill.

3. Meanwhile, make the mint sauce. Use a mini food processor to grind the chiles, ginger, galangal, sugar, and salt to a fine texture. Add the coriander, mint, and vinegar. Grind to a fine texture. Add water by the tablespoon to create a spoonable texture. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

4. Rinse the rice in a mesh strainer and set aside to dry and drain. Put the stock in a pot and heat to a simmer. Meanwhile, heat the oil (or chicken fat) in a large wide pot over medium-high heat. Fry the shallot for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring, until golden. Add the remaining seasoning paste, cassia, cardamom, and bay leaf tied into a piece of muslin for easy retrieval.. Fry until aromatic, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato, cilantro, and mint. Cook, stirring until the tomato breaks down. Add the chicken, and stir to combine. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes, until the chicken no longer looks raw. Lower the heat, if necessary.

5. Add the rice and pandan leaves, stirring to combine well. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, until the rice turns opaque. Add the hot stock (expect sizzling) and 1/4 cup yoghurt.Lower the heat slightly, cook for 3 to 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and there is a glossy layer of orange-yellow liquid at the top. The stock will bubble up through little craters dotting the surface.

Cover, lower the heat to low, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. Lift the lid to make sure the rice is cooked. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest for 10 minutes. Use a spatula or large spoon to gently fluff the rice and turn the chicken. There will be delicious browned bits at the bottom. Let the rice sit for another 10 minutes before serving.

Transfer to a platter or shallow bowl, sprinkle with the crisp shallots and coriander.

Serve with a plate of cucumbers slices and the sauces.

I served it in the middle of the table, straight from the pan - but it was with friends! The final dish was better even than I was expecting with fabulous spicing, a delicate hint of creaminess from the yoghurt, good chicken and particularly tasty rice. So good I didn't get round to taking a photo.

Leftovers cold for lunches worked a treat.


azelias kitchen said...

Bron I had to do a double take on that title, my mind needed an extra second to place the two words together. That's quite a list of spices and herbs you've got there. It certainly sounds flavoursome.

Biryani is one of my absolute favourites since I love anything rice but I'm yet to have a good one out or for last few years trust a place enough to eat it, knowing the short cuts they do in restaurants. I think it's the sort of dish best had in home environment. I've only had it in friends home but I'm yet to try it myself. There's a Pakistani biryani on the Food Safari website that I must try.

bron said...

I know what you mean Azelia - because a good biryani is a truly great dish it's somehow a bigger disappointment when it doesn't come up to scratch.

This was slow but very easy to make, and since you also like cooking it's a good way to spend a couple of hours - especially when the result was as tasty as this.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this looks nice but doesn't the yoghurt curdle?

Bron said...

No, the yoghurt won't curdle if you use full fat. It's only skimmed versions that split