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When preparing chicken dum biryani, the chicken and rice are first partially cooked separately. The steps for cooking the rice go like this:

  1. Wash the rice.
  2. Soak the rice in water for 30 minutes.
  3. For each cup of rice used, take two cups of water and boil it.
  4. Add some whole spices to the water, and add some ghee or oil to the water.
  5. Add just enough salt to the water that it tastes like sea water (one recipe actually mentioned this 'sea water' bit).
  6. When the water starts boiling, take the rice and add it to the boiling water. The water will take some time to get to a boil again. Once it does, cook the rice for 8 minutes or until it is cooked 80% (al-dente).
  7. Switch off the flame.
  8. Immediately strain the rice in a colander or pour cold water to cool the rice and stop it from getting cooked further. Drain the water from the rice.

For step 8, one recipe was ok with washing the partially cooked rice further, to get rid of any extra starch floating around.

My questions:
Question 1. When I cooled the rice by pouring cool water in step 8 and then drained the water, the rice lost the saltiness that's crucial to the biryani taste. The end result was a bland biryani. Even the spiciness of the whole spices added to the water was missing. What exactly is the point of adding salt, spices and ghee to the water, if the water is to be thrown off? How can the salty taste be retained?

Question 2. If I do not drain the water, the rice tastes good (because the salt and spices are retained), but it ends up getting cooked further and becomes mushy or sticky. Is there a way to cook the rice without it become mushy, but also not having to drain the water? The rice should get fully cooked eventually though.

None of the recipes I checked, mentioned the details of how to retain the taste and flavour while still ensuring that the rice does not get mushy or sticky. I primarily use jeera rice, but sometimes use basmati rice too.

3 Answers 3

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From all the biryani recipes I've followed, I agree that it seems strange that after you par-boil the rice that it is rinsed in cold water. This would wash off any flavouring on the outside of the rice, but shouldn't affect any flavour absorbed by the rice. If the stock the rice is cooked in is well flavoured with spices, it will change colour slightly and this should be reflected in the colour of the partially cooked rice, which is a good indication the flavour has penetrated. This is the method I use, and is pretty much common in all biryani recipes.

  1. Wash your rice well in cold water to get rid of any excess starch. You need at least 3 good changes of water to do this, you will not manage to get the water completely clear but it should not be milky. Some recipes call for the rice to be soaked for 15-30 minutes in cold water, I avoid this as some varieties of rice can easily overcook. Place the rice in a sieve or colander to drain well.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil with salt, hard masala (e.g. bay, cinnamon, cloves, mace, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamon etc.). After about 10-20 minutes gentle simmering with the lid on, the stock should be salty and well flavoured with the spices. Apart from taste, the stock should have taken on the colouring of the spices and not be completely clear, it should have a slight greenish-brown tinge to it.
  3. Add your rice, return to the boil and reduce the heat so it is just simmering and cover. This is where you need to be careful, different varieties of rice will take different times to cook, even the same brand across batches can differ slightly. You need to wait until the rice is partially cooked through, but the outer layer has not burst, which causes the stickiness. You can tell this by breaking the rice apart with your thumbnail, if a tiny white spot is present in the middle, it is perfect. If you can easily squash the rice between your thumb and forefinger, you have gone too far. You could cheat by adding a little turmeric or food colouring to the water before adding the rice, you can then tell how much stock has been absorbed into the rice by how far the colour has penetrated inside.
  4. One the rice has reached this point, drain immediately, and it is important that you work quickly here as the rice is still cooking. In a pre-prepared pot with some oil or ghee smeared on the inside, add a small layer of rice on the bottom, but do not push down. Add your meat and or vegetables etc, and repeat with more rice until all your ingredients are used. Finally, cover the pan with some tinfoil (dough or dum was traditionally used), place a lid on top and ensure there are no gaps to let the steam escape, and place on the lowest heat possible for 30 minutes. The rice will continue to steam, and will absorb the juices from the meat etc. Take off the heat, empty onto a large wide plate to prevent the rice continuing to cook.

The critical part is point 3. How long will this take? It all depends on many factors, your variety of rice, how high your burner is, how freely the rice can move in the stock when cooking etc. I try to use 4-5 times the volume of stock to rice, but this allows the rice plenty of room to expand and any excess starch to go into the water rather than stick to the rice.

Using this method, I've not had a sticky, flavourless biryani yet. Provided the rice is not too raw at step 3, you can always err on the side of caution and add it to the pot a bit harder than you think is right, you can always steam it for longer with the foil on provided the meat or vegetables have sufficient liquid to generate some steam.

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The idea is to par-cook the rice so when cooking the biryani in the final step with protein, onion and spices, it ends up being cooked perfectly. I make it often. Par cook the rice in lightly salted water (not sea-water salty, at least for me). Drain completely. However, rather than rinsing, I just spread it out on a sheet pan to cool so I can work with it, and so it is not lumped together continuing to steam. Seems to do the trick for me. If you find it is overcooking in the final preparation, par cook for less time.

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  • But when it is drained completely, all the oil/ghee, spice flavour and saltiness goes off along with the water.
    – Nav
    Apr 17 at 13:29
  • When I make biryani, the rice is simply par-cooked plain. There is no oil/ghee, or spices at that point in the recipe. My process= lots of onions caramelized in plenty of ghee that has been infused with spices...remove onion mixture draining well and saving the ghee. Then layer plain parcooked rice, marinated chicken (yogurt and spices), caramelized onion, cilantro. Pour leftover ghee on top. Seal and bake.
    – moscafj
    Apr 17 at 14:00
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I recently realized that it is not necessary to do the "water draining".
Source: this duck biryani recipe. I used jeera rice.

Meanwhile you can cook the rice. So heat a vessel and add ghee. Add the cleaned, drained rice along with the raw spices and fry the rice in a low flame for 5 minutes. When done, add 6 cups of boiled water (double the amount of rice). Add some curry leaves and required salt. When it starts boiling, add lemon juice and close the lid. When the water is completely dried, keep the lid open and do not stir the rice when hot or immediately. Let it cool.

The important points here were:

  • Frying the rice for 5 minutes on low flame in oil or ghee. I'm not sure why. I assume it's so that the grains remain separate.

  • Using 2 cups of water per cup of rice.

  • Adding only just enough salt to make the rice edible. The recipes that advise adding more than the requisite amount of water and then draining the water, require use to add enough of salt that the water should taste like sea water. Adding so much salt is not required when you add only 2 cups of water per cup of rice.

  • Cooking only until the water is absorbed by the rice.

  • Leaving the lid open at the end to allow for faster cooling.

  • Not stirring the rice after the water is absorbed. You have to wait till it cools.

This allows the ghee, salt and spice taste to remain and helps avoid wastage. Once the meat is cooked separately, one should ensure that there's sufficient amount of moisture present with the meat gravy, so that when the rice is layered over it and the dumming (steaming) is performed, the meat should not get burnt. Adding quarter or half a cup of water extra helps if the meat is too dry. It's important to allow sufficient steam to further cook the rice. I simply do the layering in a pressure cooker and seal it with the pressure cooker gasket and weight. Heating it on a low flame for 20 to 25 minutes was enough to generate sufficient steam.

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