Calcutta Mutton Biriyani Recipe
Two of my friends from school visited us last weekend. I saw them after thirteen years!!! The plan for the weekend was to immerse ourselves in the nostalgic retelling of old stories, reliving old school days, drinking bottles of old wines, and celebrating traditional Calcutta recipes (that’s where we went to school). Now, any attempt to recreate a Calcutta experience is incomplete without the decadent delight of mutton biriyani–succulent pieces of goat meat cooked in zestful spices and suspended in basmati rice flavored with saffron. The perfume of mutton Biriyanipermeates the city all day. The platforms of Howrah station, Park Street, the streets around the Hogg market, Gariahat lanes, and Park Circus crossing are infused with the distinct and rich aroma of mutton biryani that has become a signifier of the city, Calcutta. I wanted my friends to get a whiff of that mutton biriyani smell the minute they stepped into my house, and they did.
But mutton biriyani is, perhaps, the most laborious, complicated and elaborate recipe in the Indian gastronomic archives. Luckily, the different components in mutton biriyani can be prepared ahead, and everything can be assembled on the day of the party. There are eight steps in the mutton biriyani recipe, and you can easily split the work over a period of 2-3 days. I like to marinate the meat at least a day in advance. Marinated goat can sit in the fridge for a couple of days. The long exposure to the robust spices, yogurt, and salt, marinate the meat all the way to the bone, soaking up all the flavors without getting tough. When left in the fridge for a day, cooked potatoes harden a little preventing the potatoes from falling apart when the biriyani is slow-cooked. The rice must be made fresh on the day of the mutton-biriyani-assembly, though.
Different regions in India have different recipes for mutton biriyani. Calcutta mutton biriyani is distinct in its use of boiled eggs and potatoes and avoidance of any aromatic herbs. Unlike Hyderabadi biriyani, the meat and rice in Calcutta biriyani are always cooked separately and then assembled.
Calcutta mutton biryani recipe
To prepare onions
- 500 grams red onions sliced
- Enough oil and ghee for frying the onions cooking the potatoes and the meat.
To prepare potatoes
- 6 medium potatoes peeled and halved
- 4 cloves
- 1 tsp chopped garlic
- Few drops of mitha itar optional
- 4-6 black peppercorns
- Enough water to pressure cook the potatoes
To prepare eggs
- 6 eggs
- water to boil
To prepare meat
- 1 kg goat meat cut into chunky pieces
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 cup of hung yogurt or Greek yogurt
- 2 tbsp ginger paste
- 2 tbsp garlic paste
- 1 tbsp red chili powder
- salt to marinate
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp kewra water
- 1 tbsp rose water
- few drops of mitha itar optional
- 2 slit green chilies
To prepare rice
- 500 grams basmati rice
- 6-8 cloves
- 1 black cardamom
- 3-4 green cardamoms
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- Enough salt to season the rice water
- 1/4 cup warm milk
- A pinch of saffron
- A pinch of ground nutmeg and mace
- A few drops of rose water
- A few drops of kewra water
- 1 tbsp ghee
- Fry onions: Heat oil and ghee (1:1) in a thick bottomed skillet (I use a pressure cooker without the lid). Add the sliced onions and saute until it turns golden brown. Take out and let cool. Once cooled, make it into a paste and set aside.
- To the same oil, add the potatoes, cloves, chopped garlic, peppercorns and mitha itar. Season with salt, add just enough water and pressure cook until done. When the steam has escaped, take out the potatoes, let cool, and then store them in the refrigerator. Reserve the cooking fat to cook the meat.
- While the potatoes are cooking, hard boil the eggs. Let cool and peel the shells.
Marinate the meat
- Add the fried onion paste, yogurt, ginger paste, garlic paste, red chili powder, 1 tbsp oil, and salt to the goat meat. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate for 24 hours. If you plan to make it on the same day you must let it marinate for at least 4 hours.
- To the same pressure cooker where you cooked the potatoes, add the marinated meat and a little water. Let cook until the meat is soft. Once the steam has escaped, add the garam masala powder, rose water, kewra water, mitha itar, and green chilies. Stir well and set aside to cool.
- Soak the basmati rice for 45 minutes. To a large pot of water add the green and black cardamoms, cinnamon, cloves, and enough salt to heavily season the rice water. Bring the water to a boil. Add the pre-soaked rice to the boiling water and cook until the rice grains are about 80% cooked. A good measure is to turn off the heat as soon as the rice grains expand and turn to a milky white color. Immediately drain the rice and spread over a flat surface to help the heat dissipate and to stop the cooking process.
Make saffron milk
- Soak the saffron in warm milk for about 15 minutes.
- To assemble the mutton biriyani, take either a deep oven dish, or a thick bottomed deep pan with a fitting lid. Make alternate layers of the cooked goat meat, rice, potatoes and eggs. Sprinkle the saffron milk, ground nutmeg and mace, rose water, kewra water, and ghee over the top.
Slow-cook the biryani
- If using an oven dish, tightly cover it with a few layers of aluminum foil and tightly seal the edges. Cook mutton biriyani in a convection oven at 325° F for 45-60 minutes.
- If using a skillet, seal the gap between the edge of the pan and lid with flour dough. Place the pan over indirect heat (put another pan with a little water on the stove top and place the mutton biriyani pan on this pan). The heat should be set between low and simmer. Let the mutton biriyani cook for about 45 minutes.