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Malabar Chicken Biryani

Malabar Chicken Biryani 6.000

Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

Jul 31, 2018

This is celebration food in the northern part of India’s Kerala region, so special that it is served the night of a Muslim (Moplahs) wedding ceremony. As biryanis go, it is relatively mellow, and different because the rice is cooked separately before it is added to the chicken.

The ingredient list is on the long side, but the prep and cooking go fairly fast. The garam masala blend suggested for this recipe includes mace, cinnamon and green cardamom; if you’re game to make it from scratch, see the NOTE, below.

To read the accompanying story, see: Are 300 recipes enough to counter anti-Muslim sentiment? One author is giving it a try.

Make Ahead: The golden raisins need to be soaked in water for an hour or two.

6 - 8

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 6-8 servings

  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • Generous pinch of saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons rose water
  • 1/2 cup ghee or vegetable oil
  • 4 small onions (about 14 ounces total), halved and cut into thin wedges
  • 3 or 4 mild green chile peppers, seeded and minced (2 ounces total)
  • One 2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger root, minced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced to a paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds, finely crushed
  • 2 Cornish hens, cut into quarters (about 3 1/4 pounds total; may substitute 1 whole chicken of that weight, cut into 8 pieces)
  • Sea salt
  • 2/3 cup plain full-fat yogurt
  • 3 cups water
  • Juice of 1 lime, or more as needed
  • 1/3 cup unsalted cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups long-grain rice
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (see headnote and NOTE)
  • A few sprigs cilantro, coarsely chopped (leaves and tender stems; may substitute mint), for garnish


Place the raisins in a small bowl; cover with water and soak for an hour or two, then drain.

Place the saffron threads in a small bowl and add the rose water; let them soak.

Heat half the ghee or oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add half the onions; cook for about 5 minutes, then add the chiles, ginger, garlic and crushed poppy seeds; cook for a few minutes, until fragrant.

Season the chicken pieces lightly with salt all over, then nestle into the pot, skin sides down. Cook for a few minutes, until lightly browned. Use tongs to turn them over; they will not be cooked through.

Add the yogurt and 1/4 cup of the water, stirring to incorporate. Reduce the heat to low; cover and cook for 15 minutes, then add the lime juice and another 1/4 cup of water; cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the liquids have thickened into a sauce. Turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining ghee or oil in a skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Add the remaining onions and cook for about 7 minutes, stirring a few times, until lightly golden and soft. Stir in the drained raisins and cashews; cook for 3 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a plate, leaving some oil in the pan.

Rinse the rice under cool water and drain well, then add to the same pan you used for the cashew mixture. Stir to coat with the fat in the pan; cook for few minutes, then add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of water. Increase the heat to medium-high; once the liquid boils, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender and has absorbed the water. Remove from the heat.

Warm up the pot with chicken and sauce, over low heat. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the garam masala over the chicken, then fluff the rice in the pan with a fork and spread a third of it over the chicken and sauce. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of the saffron-infused rose water evenly over the layer of rice. Spread half the cashew mixture over the top.

Sprinkle another 1/4 teaspoon of garam masala over the surface of the mixture, then cover with another third of the cooked rice. Sprinkle with another 2 teaspoons of saffron water and add another layer of the cashew mixture.

Add the final layer of rice. Sprinkle the remaining saffron water and another 1/4 teaspoon of garam masala over the top. Wrap a clean kitchen towel around the pot lid (to absorb any condensation) and cover the pot with it. Cook on the lowest heat setting for about 20 minutes. Taste, and add more salt, as needed.

Transfer the rice to a serving platter, arranging the chicken pieces atop the biryani rice. Garnish with the cilantro. Serve hot.

NOTE: To make Helou’s garam masala for this dish, combine 1/4 cup anise seed, 1/4 cup caraway seed, 1/4 cup cumin seed, 2 tablespoons green cardamom pods, 2 tablespoons whole cloves, two 3-inch easy-to-shred cinnamon sticks, 2 whole nutmegs and a few shards of mace in a skillet over medium heat. Cook for a minute or two, until fragrant. Let cool, then transfer to a dedicated spice grinder and pulse until finely ground. The yield is about 1 1/4 cups; store in a glass jar for up to 1 year.

Recipe Source

Adapted from “Feast: Food of the Islamic World,” by Anissa Helou (HarperCollins, 2018).

Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving (based on 8, using ghee): 770

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 39g 60%

Saturated Fat: 15g 75%

Cholesterol: 170mg 57%

Sodium: 240mg 10%

Total Carbohydrates: 61g 20%

Dietary Fiber: 2g 8%

Sugar: 8g

Protein: 32g

Calories per serving (based on 8, using vegetable oil): 750

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 38g 58%

Saturated Fat: 8g 40%

Cholesterol: 145mg 48%

Sodium: 240mg 10%

Total Carbohydrates: 61g 20%

Dietary Fiber: 2g 8%

Sugar: 8g

Protein: 32g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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