Sri Lankan Chicken Biryani with Mint Sambol

Once a year, I try my hand at making biryani. It’s typically a disaster: mushy or undercooked rice — nothing like the fluffy, fragrant grains infused with spice that I’m aiming for.

But this year is different! I finally stumbled upon a method, fool-proof for a biryani novice even like me. Success! Delicious, ghee-laden success. Accompanied with a cooling mint sambol, this chicken biryani is the real thing.

Sri Lankan chicken biryani with mint sambol

Ingredients:

For the chicken:
1 1/2 to 2 pounds chicken (I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs but any cuts will do just fine)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon roasted curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup tomato puree
2 tablespoons chopped cashews
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
1 cardamom pod
1 clove
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons ghee
1 onion, chopped
1 serrano chili, chopped

For the rice:
1 pound (about 3 cups) basmati rice
3 teaspoons ghee
1 onion, chopped
2 cardamom pods
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 2-inch stick cinnamon stick
A pinch of ground saffron
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt

For the mint sambol:
3 cups mint leaves
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 serrano chili
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Salt to taste

1. Wash and dry chicken. Season with salt, pepper, curry powder, and cayenne pepper.

2. In a food processor, blend yogurt, tomato puree, cashews, and coconut.

3. Combine yogurt mixture, cardamom pods, clove, and bay leaves with chicken and marinade at least 2 hours to overnight.

4. When ready to assemble and cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 300F degrees. Heat ghee in a medium pan on the stovetop. Fry the onion and chili until onions are lightly browned.

5. Remove chicken from marinade (reserving marinade), add to pan, and saute for about 10 minutes. Add a little water to the reserved marinade and pour over chicken. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and place chicken in a deep oven-proof baking dish.

6. Prepare the rice: Wash and drain the rice. Heat the ghee in a medium pan. Fry onion until lightly browned. Add cardamom pods, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick.

7. Add rice and fry for a few minutes until rice starts to turn lightly golden. Add saffron and mix well.

8. Pour in stock and simmer until rice is partially cooked (about 15 minutes). Add salt.

9. Place rice on top of chicken in baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in heated oven until moisture evaporates, about 45 minutes.

10. In the meantime, make the sambol: Blend all of the sambol ingredients together in a food processor to make a thick green paste. Serve with yogurt alongside biryani.

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