Prawns did not feature in Amma’s recipe collection but they are one of my new favourites and I am keen to find new ways to prepare them. I was hesitant to try this prawn biryani recipe after it was requested by a few readers, mainly because of the delicate nature of prawns – they tend to turn rubbery when cooked too long. Considering the lengthy cooking time of biryani, prawn biryani seemed like an unlikely recipe! After four hours of preparation for my first attempt at prawn biryani, I am not completely dissatisfied with the results.
The preparation of biryani differs from country to country as much as it does within family and individuals recipes, for me biryani was that celebrated dish made by Amma on Sundays. It was a dish that required a rather lengthy preparation time – not just because of the long list of ingredients needed but also its method of cooking – on stove top, layering then baking, which made it a dish not suited for weekday meals (except for vegetable biryani which was simply cooked on the stove). Biryani was a dish that also contained mores spice than the usual weekday food, namely spices in a bag called ‘biryani mix’ – bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, star annaise, black pepper, cloves and fennel seeds, which give biryani its characteristic ambrosial scent. Amma’s biryani also contained black lentils known as biryani dhal – seeing biryani without biryani dhal or biryani mix gives the impression of an incomplete or naked one!
With this in mind I stuck to the essential elements of Amma’s biryani but omitted the black lentils (‘biryani dhal’) in this biryani recipe and have ground the ‘biryani mix’ spice into a powder using a coffee grinder. To alleviate the problem of rubbery prawns I used half the quantity of prawns in the recipe to flavor the sauce component of the dish and used the remaining prawns to garnish. I also opted for onion paste instead of chopped onions. The cooking instructions are separated into 2 stages, the preparatory stage and the cooking stage.
Prawn Biryani Recipe
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 45 minutes
Total time: 2 hours
Yield: Serves 6
- 1 kg uncooked prawns (with shells)
- 2,5 cups basmati rice
- 3 tablespoons ghee
- 1 leveled teaspoon ground biryani spice (see instructions below)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- half teaspoon garamasala
- 1 tablespoon fish masala
- 3 cloves garlic
- small piece of ginger
- 3 medium sized onions
- 3 medium sized tomatoes
- bunch of coriander
- 1 lime
- half teaspoon saffron
- quarter cup of milk
- 175 ml plain yogurt or sour milk
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
To make the biryani spice powder I ground the following whole spices:
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove
- teaspoon of fennel
- 4 cardamom pods without peel
- whole cinnamon stick
- 1 small star annaise
- quarter teaspoon fenugreek seeds
Grind to form a fine powder. Use a strainer to remove larger unground particles. Grind until fine.
Stage 1. Preparation
1. Start by preparing the rice 2 or 3 hours before you intend cooking the biryani. Add saffron to the milk. Set aside. Soak the rice in cold water. Rinse until the water runs clear. Boil the rice for 10 minutes on medium heat then rinse once more until the water runs clear. Drain all water. Pour the saffron infused milk over the rice. Cover and set aside.
2. Prepare the prawns. Depending on the type of prawns used, you may need to remove the head and gut. Once the prawns are clean, set aside while you prepare a marinade for them.
3. To make the marinade combine 2 cloves of garlic, grated or crushed, the ginger also crushed or grated, lime juice, some coriander chopped fine. Combine the ingredients then add the prawns. Immerse in the marinade, leave aside for 20 minutes or so while you prepare the tomatoes and rice.
4. Place the tomatoes in hot water. This makes the tomatoes peel easily. Once the water has cooled. Pat the tomatoes dry then cut in half removing the seeds and excess water. Grate the tomatoes and set aside.
5. Return to the prawns. Remove half the quantity of prawns from the marinade. Set aside. You can remove the shells and tails off the remaining prawns. Add the fish masala, garamasala and turmeric powder. Add yogurt then gently mix until the prawns are completely immersed in the yogurt marinade. Cover and place in the fridge.
6. Prepare the onions. Peel then chop two of the onions fine. Place half a tablespoon of ghee in a medium to heavy based pan on medium heat. Once the ghee is melted add the onions, cover and allow to immer. Remove from heat one the onions have softened and browned. Allow to cool before blending into a fine paste.
7. Slice the remaining onion into thin rings. Fry in ghee until soft and slightly brown. Set aside.
Stage 2. Cooking
1. Heat a non stick or heavy based pan on medium heat. Add a tablespoon of ghee. Once melted, add a teaspoon of biryani spice, fry for 1-2 minutes, and add 2 tablespoons of onion paste and remaining ginger and garlic (crushed). Simmer until the mixture resembles the image below.
2. Add the yogurt marinated prawns, one at a time. Turn until the prawns are slightly brown on both sides. Add the remaining yogurt and spice mixture.
3. Add the grated tomatoes. Allow to simmer for 3-5 minutes on low heat. Remove from stove Prepare the rice. Heat a tablespoon of ghee on medium heat. Fry the rice in the ghee for 5- 7 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Preheat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius.
5.Start to layer the biryani. Use a deep pan or baking dish. Rub the pan with butter or ghee to prevent the rice form sticking to the bottom.
6. Start by adding a layer of rice followed by the prawn sauce. Top with fried onion rings and coriander. Repeat the process until all ingredients have been layered. End with a layer of rice.
7. Dissolve the salt in the cup of water. Pour the salt water over the mixture. Cover then bake at 150 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes or until the rice is cooked.
8. Return to the remaining prawns. Fry on medium heat for 5-6 minutes or until both sides are slightly brown. Remove the biryani from the oven. Garnish with the fried prawns, onion rings and chopped coriander.
9. Serve warm with braised dhal, carrot salad and raita.