Tandoori Chicken Biryani


Hello, all. Welcome to biryani recipe 240349304 on the interwebs. You might be wondering, well Abida, what makes your biryani recipe so different from all the other ones out there?? Well, I’ll tell you exactly what, discerning readers. It’s the fact that I have struggled to get to this point of a publishable biryani recipe that I can confidently share with other people. It has been a year long journey for me of trials, tribulation and hyperventilation. I should add a side note here that being Bangladeshi, biryanis are not really a traditional food as it is in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. It is usually more common for us to prepare a pilau or yakhni dish. And yep that is my very legitimate excuse that I am using before sharing my embarassing biryani making woes…


The first attempt came a year ago where I attempted to make the biryani from scratch with no boxed spice mixes. It was a sorry tale from the get go. I somehow managed to burn the onions when I was making the chicken masala, lending a rather unpleasant acrid taste throughout the whole dish. Furthermore, I was so fixated on not having soft, mushy rice, that I ended up with the total opposite and I had to spend aaaages letting it cook on the stove in a desperate attempt to get it to soften. The second biryani attempt came a few months later, when I managed to muster the courage to try again. This time, I thought to ease myself back into the process by using a ready prepared biryani spice mix. I ended up regretting the decision as I found the flavour too strong and decidedly flowery in taste. On top of that, the second time around, I was fixated on not having hard rice and subsequently I ended up with rice that was way too soft. 

The struggles, guys. It’s real. 
But a couple of days ago, I decided to conquer my fears head on, armed with my new range of culinary skills and a bag load of tips that I’d preened from anyone who fed me biryani. And just like in the tale of Golidocks and the Three Bears, the third time was just right. And there was no box spice mix to be found in sight, huzzah! All of the spices were ones that we had in the cupboards anyway, and I tried to use whole spices in moderation so as not to overwhelm the dish. I decided to go for a tandoori chicken flavour as it is one that we all enjoy in our family so it was a safe option. I used chicken on the bone as I feel that it is more tender, but you can use boneless chicken, and make tikka style pieces. 

There are three different parts to this recipe, the preparation of the tandoori chicken and then the gravy/sauce to go with it, the precooking of the rice, and the assembly process. It might seem a bit intimidating, but if you are lazy like me, you could prepare the chicken masala the night before and then do all of the rice and assembly the next day. And if you’re looking for even more shortcuts, you could skip baking the chicken in the oven and just cook it on the stove straight off. I couldn’t be bothered to use dough to seal the pot as in the traditional dum method to steam the biryani and instead used foil. Alternatively, you could wrap the lid in a damp tea towel and place it on top. A colleague gave me the tip of placing a flat tawa under the pot whilst the biryani steams and I found that it helps in distributing the heat.

You could add lots of food colouring to the rice or the chicken, but I decided to keep things simple and natural, and used a little bit of saffron. Like with most curry dishes, as good as the biryani tastes fresh, it tastes better the next day when the flavours have had time to mature and deepen.  So give it a go, guys. I really mean it when I say that if I can do it, anyone can do it. 


Tandoori Chicken Biryani
Serves: 4-6
Prep time: 30 minutes (plus marination time)
Cooking time: 2-3 hours



Tandoori Chicken marinade:

1 whole chicken, cut into small pieces (roughly 1kg in weight)
1 cup yoghurt
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp chaat masala powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Gravy/masala sauce for tandoori chicken:

4 tbs oil
1 onion sliced
3 cloves garlic, grated/minced
1-2 inch piece ginger, grated/minced
2 bay leaves
2 green cardamoms
1 cinnamon stick, snapped into pieces
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 cup yoghurt
1 tsp concentrated tomato puree/paste


2 cups basmati rice, washed and left to soak for 30 minutes
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
pinch of whole black peppercorns
1 black cardamom
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick snapped into pieces
3 green cardamoms
2-3 cloves
1 tsp salt
1-2 tbs butter
Few strands of saffron (optional)
Few tablespoons of milk (optional)
Handful corriander, chopped
2 whole green chillis (optional)



1) In a bowl, add the chicken, and all of the marinade ingredients. If using chicken on the bone, slash drumsticks on the thickest part of the legs. Massage the marinade into the chicken and make sure all pieces are coated liberally. Cover and leave to marinade in the fridge for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.

2) Once marination is complete, remove chicken from fridge. Preheat oven to 200C/Gas mark 7 and line a roasting tray with foil. Remove pieces of marinated chicken from the bowl, lightly shaking off any excess marinade. Place chicken pieces on tray, leaving some space between. Reserve any leftover marinade. Bake chicken in the oven for 45 minutes-1 hour, until the chicken is cooked through. To char the chicken slightly, you can finish the chicken pieces under the grill or on a stove top griddle. Once chicken is cooked, remove from oven and leave to the side whilst you prepare the gravy/masala sauce.

3) In a large frying pan or skillet, add oil and allow to heat up on a medium heat. Add garlic and leave to cook for a miute or two so that the garlic turns golden brown. Then add the onions and ginger. Stir onions to coat in oil and then add a 1/2 tsp salt to help onions soften. Add in bay leaves, green cardamoms and cinnamon. If you find the onions are catching, add a few tablespoons of water at a time. Once the onion have turned brown, add the chilli powder, cumin powder and curry powder and tomato puree. Stir and allow the spices to cook off for a minute or two. Once you see the oil and the sauce separating, add a half cup of water to help the onions soften and dissolve and leave to simmer for about 5 minutes.

4) Once the onions have softened, add in the cooked tandoori chicken and stir to coat in sauce. Then stir in 1/2 cup of plain yoghurt. Leave to cook for a minute or two so some of the liquid evaporates. Then add in 1/2 cup water and leave to cook for 2-3 minutes until the sauce comes together. The chicken masala should not be too dry, so add extra as and if necessary. Check salt to taste and then remove chicken from the heat.

5) To prepare the rice, place a large pot on a high heat. Add about 6-8 cups of boiling water from a kettle. Add all of the whole spices and allow the water to come to a rolling boil. Drain the basmati rice and pour into the pot. Leave to cook for 5 minutes, so the rice is partly cooked. Test the rice to see if it is ready by taking a grain of rice and rubbing it between your finger and thumb. If ready, it should break into 3 pieces. Drain rice in a colander and reserve to the side.

6) Take a few strands of saffron, and allow it to sit in a few tablespoons of warm milk for at least 15 minutes whilst you layer the biryani. The longer you leave the saffron, the more the colour will come out.

7) Now to layer the biryani, take a large pot (I used the same one I prepared the rice in) and then coat the bottom and sides of the pot with a tablespoon of butter to stop the biryani from sticking. If you do this over a low heat, the butter will easily melt. Spoon about 1/3 of the chicken masala into the bottom of the pan. Then spoon a layer of rice on top so that the chicken is covered. Then spoon on another layer of chicken in the middle of the rice. Then top that with another layer of fragrant rice. Then one final layer of chicken masala in the middle and then cover that with one last layer of rice. Try to even out the rice so the layer is nice and flat. Spoon over the saffron milk mixture in a large ring on the top layer of the rice. Break up a knob of butter over the top of the rice. Lightly sprinkle on 2-3 handfuls of water to help the rice steam. Then add the chopped corriander and the whole green chillis.

8) Cover the pot with tin foil tightly and place the lid on top, making sure there are no gaps. Place a tawa under the pot and leave the biryani to steam on a low heat for 30 minutes. Check the rice after 30 minutes (if rice is still hard, sprinkle with a little more water, reseal with foil and leave to steam for a further 5-10 mins). Use a large flat spoon to gently mix  the biryani from top to bottom. Check salt and season to taste as necessary. Serve hot with salad and raita.


4 thoughts on “Tandoori Chicken Biryani

  1. Asalaamu Alaykum Abida, I love love biryani I made Rick steins chicken and rose water biryani last weekend and I enjoyed it but now I'm eager to try your recipe as I've had such great success with your recipes so far 🙂 I made your lamb/mutton and yellow split pea curry on Eid and it went down so well. Jazaaki Allahu Khayran and keep sharing.

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