Probably my favourite Mum recipe, this dish is actually very easy to make if you have a jar of Patak’s Biriani Paste. However, the simplicity can be deceptive if you are a rice-cooking amateur. I’m no professional and I often mess this up – too much rice means the stodge factor is increased. Burnt bottom (some of us like it that way) is fine as long as the burning flavour doesn’t pervade the whole pan. If you are cooking for more than four adults, you’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Mum used two types of daitchkey (sp?) – a huge metal one for lots of people or a heatproof lidded casserole for when she made it in the oven with yogurt and spices and things (she didn’t leave me that recipe…). She always said that the best biranis were Pakistani ones. I’ve had a fair few birianis in my time and I know what she means: layers of multicoloured tangyness with beautifully tender beef served with lashings of fried onions and maybe some cashews? I’m sure some birianis have nuts in them.
Anyway, Mum’s standard biriani (or ‘biz’ as my Welsh Dad calls it – I’ve only got one dad, what am I saying?) is beef or chicken, fried with the biriani paste and other spices, basmati rice and peas added later. Because us kids are half-Celts, Mum sometimes added potatoes (I know, carb overload). The most important element of the dish, however, is the drenching of Hell’s Flame that takes place once you have loaded your bowl (and bowl I always use, never plate).
Hell’s flame really is the devil’s work – raw onion, chilli powder, sugar (a bit of devillish jiggerypokery) and malt vinegar. It’s the tangyness that turns it Anglo-Indian. Not putting hell’s flame on your biriani is like not having salt and vinegar on your fish n chips. Or ketchup if you really like ketchup. The raw onions give enough crunch to balance the ricey texture and the tang of the vinegar followed by sweet and sour heat completes every mouthful.
Every one of Mum’s curries is accompanied by a plate (often the 70’s rose detail one) of sliced cucumber, tomatoes and spring onions sprinkled with salt and drizzled with more malt vinegar.
This is the dish I would request most often when visiting Mum and Dad. You could depend on it even if I hadn’t been asked what I fancy before I arrived. Invariably, Pip and I drove from London late in the evening, often on a Wednesday night in the early days when Pip didn’t go to full-time school (four day weekends – whup!) and there would be a daitchkey with enough leftover for several portions, even if it was late at night! Better yet, I would have my fill but make sure I left some for breakfast biriani… Perfection.
Most restaurants outside Southall serve biriani with an accompanying vegetable curry. I don’t see the point. I judge birianis on whether they can survive without any accompaniments (other than vinegar!). I think of biriani like an Italian risotto. Perfect just the way they are.
There’s a south Indian takeaway chain called Sambal Express which serves a really spicy version of mutton birani that tastes very similar to Mum’s. They have a store in Southall. They also do a delicious range of street food and snacks. My favourites are fish and egg rolls and fish rotis.
Mum’s Chicken or Beef Biriani Recipe
Hell’s Flame Recipe
Combine the following ingredients in a serving bowl:
1 brown onion – diced
Half teaspoon (or more!) of chilli powder
1-2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Enough glugs of malt vinegar to almost cover the diced onions in your bowl