Yesterday was perhaps the tenth time I cooked a chicken biryani – I have never tried cooking a veg biryani or an egg biryani because for me those are nothing sort of an insult to the institution, the pride, the majesty of a wonderful pot of heavenly smelling, delicious biryani enough to lead an individual to mouthgasm.
I have also never tried a mutton biryani – because I am pretty humble and I know my limitations as a home chef, or you may call it a chef by hobby.
A number of things conjure up in my mind, in my heart every time I cook biryani, most of it for myself and rarely for friends. From the moment I get the chicken from the butcher’s shop till the time I have taken the first mouthful there is a sense of mysteriousness that engulfs a part of me.
First, the marination – I have tried different proportions of the marination spice mix. And every time it amazes me. How it beautifully coaxes the cut chicken pieces to undergo a sort of magical transformation. Call it my inexperience or nature to experiment, I am hooked into thinking – “Will the chicken be tastier enough?” or “will the salt be enough” or “this time I do not want it to be less spicier”.
Next, browning the onions – If you have ever cooked brown onions you would know this. Once you are done with the frying and you take it off the oven/heat, it slowly changes color. For a seasoned chef it might not mean much. I however get a sense of intrigue every time I take it off the heat and put it in a dish/bowl. “Hope it does not turn black and the color is golden brown on all sides when I put it for dum” – my thoughts are loaded.
Next comes cooking the rice – well perhaps the most important aspect of cooking a good pot of biryani lies in how well you can season the water which will act as a genii and elongate those grains of rice, make them look like pearls; not to mention the fairy-tale like aroma of the basmati rice and whole spices dancing to the tunes of the boiling water.
What tends to get my heart pounding is the extent till which the rice should be cooked – the chef in me suddenly transforms himself into thinking that he is a professional and hence there is no scope for the rice to be either lesser cooked or over cooked than the prescribed (nowhere to be found though) limit.
Yes, I am getting better at it with every try. No doubt the pounding of heart remains the same – when you cook royal dishes, these are just the side effects.
And then comes the final step – layering the biryani in the pot and cooking it. When I brush in some ghee at the bottom of the pot and layer the chicken, I plead to the chicken pieces – “Please be there in your present shape, get cooked nicely, and for heaven’s sake don’t get burnt and stick to the bottom of the pot”.
If any one has told you that a thick bottomed pot will prevent the chicken from sticking, he/she is shitting around. Ask me, I have faced similar disasters when I started out with cooking the biryani.
Then once the layering is done and the lid is closed, the heat is put on – I turn back, sit back in my room for the next 30-35 minutes hoping everything goes right. Once you have closed the lid, you have no way to get things changed.
You can only change the heat around and the more you do that, the more confusing it would be for you. So you are at the mercy of every ingredient in that pot, the God of Fire to either make or break you. After all, so much effort goes into it.
Time out! I open the lid with abated anticipation of the outcome. I spoon it out on a plate and take a mouthful…