Chicken biryani is a dish for celebration. If you need to feed a crowd or are hosting a dinner party, this is a dish to make that will greet your guest with the scent of a delicious meal to come — a meal that you made in a slow cooker.
Just because a meal is made in a slow cooker doesn't mean there won't be any prep. Those sorts of recipes exist and are handy when you need a weeknight meal, but because Neela developed these recipes in a manner that preserves the nuanced flavors of Indian food, layering of ingredients and some cooking in stages is necessary. A tadka, or the process of blooming spices, is used to create a base of flavor. The rice is par-cooked, and the chicken is marinated for 30 minutes all before they go into the slow cooker.
The traditional method for cooking biryanis includes covering a large brazier with dough to trap the heat. In this recipe, the slow cooker is sealed with foil to produce a similar steamed effect.
This recipe calls for Cornish hens as they are closer to the size of chickens in India, but you could substitute chicken pieces; buy the smallest bone-in pieces, and if using breast pieces, cut them in half.
Serve the biryani with a big green salad, and don't hesitate to bring the slow cooker itself out for serving. It's worth showing off all you can accomplish with this kitchen appliance.
Slow-Cooker Chicken & Rice Biryani
Serves 6 to 8
large yellow onions
(1 1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
7 or 8
cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
medium tomato, quartered
plain yogurt, store-bought or homemade
garam masala, store-bought or homemade
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons
ground Indian red chile
(1 1/2-pound) Cornish game hens, cut into 6 to 8 pieces each
3 or 4
serrano chiles, halved lengthwise
In a bowl, wash the rice gently in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear. Drain it and soak it in warm water for 20 to 30 minutes. Boil 6 cups of water in a large saucepan. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt when the water comes to a full boil. Add the rice and stir a few times, cooking it for 4 to 5 minutes, until it is two-thirds cooked. (The longer the rice has soaked, the less time it will take to cook.) Drain the rice in a sieve, run cold water through it for a minute, and then spread it on a large platter or cookie sheet to cool. Set aside.
Heat the milk over low heat in a small pan until warm to the touch; remove from the heat and add the saffron threads to bloom. Set aside.
Slice 1 onion and coarsely chop the other. In a skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the ghee over high heat and fry the sliced onion, stirring constantly, until dark brown and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Leaving as much of the ghee as possible in the skillet, transfer the browned onions with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
Add the chopped onion to the same skillet and sauté over medium-high heat until it is lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer these browned chopped onions, along with the ghee from the skillet, to the bowl of a food processor. Add the ginger, garlic, and tomato and process into a paste. Add the yogurt, along with the garam masala, coriander, red chile, turmeric, and 1 teaspoon of the salt and process to blend for 1 minute. Transfer the marinade to a large mixing bowl and add the Cornish hen pieces. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, mix well to coat, and set aside for 30 minutes.
Heat the slow cooker on high for 15 minutes before use. Spread the remaining tablespoon of ghee on the bottom and one inch up the sides of the slow-cooker insert. Layer the marinated hen pieces evenly, and use a wet paper towel to clean any marinade off the sides of the insert before continuing.
Sprinkle half the fried onion slices over the hens, then half the saffron milk, along with some of the strands, half the cashews and raisins, and half the sliced serrano chiles. Cover these ingredients with all of the rice and repeat with the remaining fried onions, saffron, cashews, raisins, and chiles.
Cover the insert of the slow cooker with aluminum foil, and fold the foil over the sides of the slow cooker. Place the lid on the cooker and cook on low for 4 hours.
Remove the insert from the cooker and let the biryani stand for about 5 minutes. Serve hot.
Neela opts for Cornish hens for flavor and size, which she finds has stronger "chicken" flavor. If you can't find Cornish hens, a small 4-pound chicken will work.
Reprinted with permission from The New Indian Slow Cooker by Neela Paniz, copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press.