One of the most famous metropolitan destinations in India is Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh. In the Awadh region of Lucknow, the food is highly influenced by Nawabi-style cuisine; if you were to visit there, you would likely find kebabs, bread and biryanis being served by chefs and home cooks alike.
The word ‘biryani’ actually originates from the Farsi word ‘birian,’ which means‘to fry before cooking’. It’s likely that you’ve had a biryani before – it’s a staple dish in many parts of India and has become popular the world over for its taste, versatility and affordability.
Biryani comprises of rice (traditionally basmati) cooked with spices and yoghurt, with the addition of meat or in some cases,mixed vegetables.Biryani variations differbetween regions, with each area having their own approach to the ingredients, method and cooking style used.
The two predominant types of biryani are kutchi (raw) biryani and pukki (cooked). In order to prepare the biryani, the rice and meat are cooked separately before being layered in a handi – a cooking vessel mainly used in Pakistani and Bengali cooking – and baked.
The Lucknowi biryani – also called Awadh biryani – is a variation of pukki (cooked) biryani. The meat of choice is flash-fried in ghee, and then cooked in water flavoured with aromatic spices until tender. The nutritious meat broth is then drained and used to cook the rice, which has previously been lightly fried in ghee. Finally, both the cooked rice and meat are layered in a handi, then an assortment of sweet spices are added before the handi is sealed.
Lucknowi biryanis are cooked using the dum pukht method, a cooking technique popular in the Awadh region of India – dum means ‘breathe in’ and pukht means ‘cook.’ This method entails cooking meat and vegetables slowly over a low flame in a sealed container (in this case, a handi). Cooking the ingredients in this way locks the moisture and aromas into the food, producing a richer, more flavourful dish. Once cooked, an authentic biryani should smell fresh and aromatic, with a savoury yet sweet taste and extra tender meat.
Chicken or mutton are the most traditional meats used for a biryani, although fish and eggs are also common. A vegetarian biryani is known as a ‘tehri,’ and is a favourite dish in homes throughout India. In Lucknow, vegetarian biryanismight include peas, cauliflower, carrots and potatoes. Cooks in this area sometimes even form the vegetables into protein-based balls – a cunning trick that gives the effect of a meat-based dish.
Ubiquitous curry houses here in the UK often fail to replicate the authentic flavours and textures of an authentic biryani. If you want to experience true regional Indian cuisine for yourself – without getting on a flight – head down to one of London’s fine-dining Indian restaurants. In these eateries, you’ll be able sample fine Indian cuisine made using traditional methods and ingredients, but with contemporary flair. Who knows, the biryani might just become your new favourite Indian meal!