Lamb biryani, Bombay style!

Mouth watering Lamb biryani takes pride of place on the table

Mouth watering Lamb biryani takes pride of place on the table

It’s wrong to love a dish so much. But the heart wants what it wants—in this case, a big helping (or two) of biryani.  Packed with all the things I love- meat, potatoes, rice, and spices, it is one of the heartiest meals I can think of.

There are many varieties of this dish, which was originally brought to India by the Mughals—each state has its own unique and closely guarded version. The last time I counted, there were more than 15 types (and that’s on the conservative side). The most common choices for meat are lamb and goat, but chicken, shrimp, and even fish have been known to find their way into this aromatic preparation.

My recipe is for home-style Bombay biryani. Yogurt is used to tenderize the meat—usually lamb, though chicken works well, too—and a slew of spices, both powdered and whole, add layers of flavor. Each has its part to play, and roasting and grinding them gives a distinct, deep intensity to each one. This dish is big on aroma, the kind that gently wafts and finds its way into the corners of your home.

Biryani is not a complicated dish to prepare. Time consuming, yes. But not difficult. And it’s one of those dishes that’s diverse and satisfying enough to be the only one on the table. Some like to embellish it with a raita (a yogurt-based salad of cucumber, onion and tomato) or just garnish it with a few onion rings, tomatoes and lime wedges. Either way, I always try to make a little extra, because I think it tastes even better the next day, when the spices and meat have all rested together long enough to really get along.




Lamb or Chicken Biryani

Note: bone-in skinless chicken legs or thighs can be used in place of lamb. Reduce cooking time in step 3 to 30 to 45 minutes. You can also cook the lamb in an Indian pressure cooker- roughly 8 whistles and let it rest in the steam for 10 mins.
YIELD: Serves 4
ACTIVE TIME: Prep 15 minutes, cooking time 1 hour 30 mins
TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 45 minutes
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: Spice/coffee grinder, heavy bottomed lidded saucepan, dutch oven


  • For the Marinade:
  • 3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
  • 6 finely sliced medium onions (about 6 cups), divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds cubed lamb shoulder (see note above)
  • 2 cups whole milk yogurt
  • 2 hot green chilies (such as Serrano or Thai)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
  • 2 tablespoons toasted and ground cumin seeds, divided
  • 2 tablespoons toasted and ground coriander seeds, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons red chilli powder
  • Salt to taste


  • For the Sauce:
  • 2 medium potatoes, quartered
  • 4 dry bay leaves, divided
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 inch piece of cinnamon broken into shards
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 black cardamom pod
  • 2 mace petals
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons whole fennel seed
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala powder
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, divided


  • For the Rice:
  • 2 1/2 cups Basmati rice
  • 1 teaspoon juice from 1 lime


  1. For the Marinade: Heat 1 tablespoon ghee in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add half of the onion and cook, stirring, until brown browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. In a large bowl, combine yogurt, turmeric, green chillies, ginger, garlic, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, chilli powder, and 2 teaspoons salt. Roughly chop the onions and add to the mix. Add the lamb, mix well to coat, and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
  2. For the gravy: When ready to cook, add the remaining ghee to the heavy bottomed saucepan and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add the potatoes and cook, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add remaining onions and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add 2 bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, black cardamom, peppercorns, fennel seeds. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and cook until the oil separates from the tomatoes, bout 4 minutes. Add the garam masala and stir for 1 minute.
  3. Add half of the cilantro and the marinated lamb (discard excess marinade). Add 1 cup of water and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, cover, and cook until lamb is completely tender, about 3 hours. (See note above.)
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add lime juice and remaining 2 bay leaves. Season well with salt. Add rice and cook until almost tender. Drain well and spread on a plate to dry.
  5. To Asemble: Add remaining tablespoon ghee to a large Dutch oven and spread evenly over bottom. Add a 2 inch layer of rice. Next add the lamb gravy and sprinkle some coriander leaves. Add another layer of rice, lamb gravy and coriander, repeating until all of the rice and lamb is used up, finishing with a layer of rice. Cover and place the dutch oven on low heat. Cook until the rice is fragrant and completely cooked, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately. Thank me later 🙂


This recipe also features on my column, Beyond Curry on