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Burmese chicken biryani (Danbauk)

Burma stands in the crossroads of trade between India and the Far East. Ancient trade routes have allowed for the influence of Indian spices and flavors to influence Burmese cuisine. This is one of those perfect dishes that is so loved in Burma and the perfect confluence of flavors and cooking styles.

This biryani is made in an almost traditional Indian style. The chicken is marinated and cooked in wonderful yogurt-based gravy till fork tender. Howver, the method diverges when only the meat is layered with fried onions in rice and slow baked with saffron milk. The "korma" of the chicken is heated and served separately. This allows the guest to either enjoy the lightly flavored meat and rice alone or douse it with the gravy. The flavors are beautifully balanced, mild and yet so addictive. This is an involved dish to make, but the results are beautiful and well worth the effort.

This book is a recent purchase and one that I am enjoying reading and cooking from. The famed Rangoon sisters, Amy and Emily, have become famous in London for their brilliant Burmese cuisine and pop-up style restaurant cooking. This cookbook is a collection of wonderful recipes and I am definitely cooking from here often.

For more recipes from this wonderful cookbook, click here.


For the chicken marinade:

1 1/4 cups yogurt

6 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon ginger paste

Salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons turmeric

2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds

1 tablespoon chili powder, or to taste

6 chicken drumsticks, bone-in thighs, or breasts, or a combination

For the fried onions:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons peanut oil

3 large onions, finely sliced

For the chicken curry:

3 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 1-inch cinnamon stick

4 green cardamom pods

10 black peppercorns

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon ginger paste

Salt, to taste

1 cup water

For the rice:

2 cups basmati rice:

4 cloves

2 cups chicken stock

To finish:


Saffron soaked in warm milk for 30 minutes

Mix all the ingredients for the chicken marinade and toss the chicken well coating the meat liberally. Allow to marinate for a minimum of 3 hours, but overnight is always best.

Heat the oil and ghee in a deep pot and add the sliced onions. Fry on medium heat till the onions are well browned and caramelized. Remove and drain on paper towels and set aside. Save the pot to be used later without washing.

Meanwhile cook the rice with the cloves in the stock and topping up with as much water as needed. Cook in a rice cooker or on the stove and set aside.

In the same pot you fried the onions, heat the oil and add the whole spices, mustard seeds, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, and peppercorns and sauté for 2 minutes on medium heat. Add the chili powder, and give a quick stir followed immediately with the onions. Cook the onions on low heat, so as not to burn the chili powder, till soft and translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for an addition 1-2 minutes till the ginger is cooked and aromatic.

Add the marinated chicken and mix in well. Cook on medium heat till the sauce begins to come to a boil. Add the water and salt and simmer with the lid on for 40 minutes, till the chicken is dropping off the bone. At this poing the curry will have slightly thickened and the oils will have floated to the surface. Taste and adjust salt and spice.

To assemble the dish, add 1/3 of the rice to an oven safe pot or dish. Top with 1/2 the cooked chicken pieces only, leaving the curry behind. Top with 1/3 of the fried onions. Add a few dabs of butter. Layer again with 1/3 the rice, followed with the remaining chicken pieces only, and 1/3 the fried onions. Add a few dabs of butter. Finish with the final layer of rice and the rest of the fried onions. Add a few dabs of butter. Drizzle the saffron milk all over. Seal with a tight fitting lid or a layer of foil and the lid. The dish can be made to this point and stored in the fridge till needed.

Set the curry aside to be served separately with the biryani.

Heat the oven to 375 F.

When ready to serve, heat the assembled dish for 30 minutes till the rice in the center is heated through. If the dish was stoerd in the fridge, bring to room temperature first. Heat the remaining curry on the stove. Serve the biryani with the curry on the side for guests to drizzle on as per their taste.

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