31 August 2011

Chicken Biryani

The King of Chickens.  O Rei dos Frangos.

Portugal has no shortage of kings, it seems, despite the absence of a monarchy.  In a sleepy old neighborhood called Moscavide, near our apartment, there is a King of Chicken.  Walking around Cascais a couple months ago, BB and I saw a rival King of Chicken enthroned there.  And there is even a King of Chicken chain, whose kingdom is vast and moderately priced.

So, when I was perusing my Bittman Bible, How to Cook, and I came upon Chicken Biryani, the "prince of chickens"-- how could I resist trying out some new royalty?

Now, the Prince of Chicken has very little in common with the Portuguese King of Chicken. The King embodies the Portuguese food philosophy of cooking with olive oil and salt and little else, letting the food be just what it is.  No fuss; nothing strange or unexpected.  I can imagine the kings of chicken in Moscavide, Cascais, and throughout the land all make chicken which tastes more or less the same.  Tasty but a bit predictable.

Princely Chicken Biryani, on the other hand, possesses exotic flavors.  Flavors, in fact, which I only had on hand thanks to an amazingly thoughtful friend who had returned from a trip from Turkey bearing a huge gift of orange and green and sandy colored spices and seeds.  Two kinds of saffron!  All that was missing was some frankincense and myrrh. Truly a gift fit for a prince, so I knew I had to put it to good use.

So here they are, sauteed with chicken and fragrant basmati rice, simmered until tender and topped decadently with melted butter and toasted almonds.  Your kitchen will smell like an exotic palace... and best of all, you won't need to do much but be a little bit patient while it all cooks up.

Show off tip: I like to bring the whole pot to the table, and lift the lid off there.  The scent of the chicken, the sound of the sizzling brown rice bits, the buttery sheen of it all-- royalty deserves a proper entrance, don't you think?

Chicken Biryani
serves 6
adapted from How to Cook

3 tablespoons of butter
1 large onion, sliced
salt and black pepper
1 large pinch of saffron
10 cardamom pods
20 coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
3 cups chicken stock
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
1/2 cup slivered almonds

1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a Dutch oven with a lid, over a medium-high heat.  Add the onions, salt, and pepper and cook until the onions are soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the spices and stir.

2. Add the basmati rice, stirring often, until it is a bit browned and glossy.  This should take about 3 minutes.  Add the stock, place the chicken parts in a single layer on top of the rest, and sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper.  Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat so that it simmers gently.  Keep covered and cook undisturbed until the chicken and rice are cooked, about 25-30 minutes.

3. While the chicken is cooking, take the remaining tablespoon of butter and melt it in a skillet over medium-high heat.  When it is hot, add the slivered almonds and cook, stirring constantly, until light brown.  Remove from heat.

4. Once the chicken and rice are done, lift the lid just long enough to sprinkle the almonds on top.  Re-cover, and triumphantly carry this to the table.  Uncover with fanfare, and once everyone is done saying how good it smells, serve and enjoy.

(*Serving tip-- there tends to be some browned, crunchy rice crust at the bottom of the pot.  Be sure to dig down and take a little with each portion!  Soooo yummy.)

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