Darjeeling Express and the force that is Asma Khan

Darjeeling Express and the force that is Asma Khan


Step 1
Mix the flour with enough water (about ½ cup, added gradually as needed) to make a stiff dough, cover and let sit.

2nd step
Wash the rice in a bowl of cold water, using gentle circular motions with your hand in one direction to avoid breaking the delicate tips of the rice (if they are broken, the virtually invisible tips will boil quickly when the rice goes into the rice bowl). hot water and turn into glue-like starch, which will make all the rice sticky). Wash the rice in several changes of cold water until the water remains clear.

Step 3
Next, soak the rice. There should be at least 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) of water in the bowl above the level of the rice. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and soak the rice for at least 2 hours. The long soaking allows the rice to absorb water. As the rice is not hollow and dry when put into boiling water, cooking time is minimized; this will help keep your rice grains long and separate.

Step 4
Place the saffron in a small bowl. Warm the milk until it is lukewarm: my mother would describe it as the temperature of blood – if you touch the milk it should only be slightly warm. If you are using a microwave to heat milk, remember to stir the milk before checking the temperature as there may be hot spots. Pour the lukewarm milk over the saffron and let it infuse.

Step 5
Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the onions until caramelized. Using a slotted spoon and leaving as much oil in the pan as possible, remove the onions to a plate and spread out to cool.

Step 6
Remove half of the oil from the pan and set aside. To the remaining oil, add the chicken and cook over medium-high heat until browned on both sides. Add the garlic, ginger, yogurt, chili powder and 2 teaspoons salt and cook over medium-high heat until the garlic and ginger have lost their raw smell and the yogurt has reduced. Add half the caramelized onions, then add warm water to cover the chicken, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. You don’t want the chicken to be tender: it needs to remain firm because it will still be cooked with the rice.

Step 7
Drain the soaked rice. Boil the kettle and pour the water into a large saucepan. Bring back to a boil, add another 6 teaspoons of salt, then add the drained rice and boil until the rice is three-quarters cooked (this should take no more than 5 minutes). To test, remove a grain from the boiling water and squeeze it. The rice grain must have a hard core. When the rice reaches this stage, drain it and spread it on a plate to prevent it from continuing to cook.

Step 8
To assemble the biryani, you will need a heavy-based pan with a tight-fitting lid. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from its cooking liquid and place it in the pan. Strain the cooking liquid and pour it over the chicken. Try to squeeze out the onion/ginger/garlic residue as much as possible so that the broth is nice and thick. It should barely cover the chicken pieces. Then add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, mace and nutmeg. Add half of the saffron milk, sugar and lemon juice. Then add the rice, making sure it covers the chicken. On top of the rice, add the rest of the caramelized onions, the rest of the saffron milk and the reserved oil.

Step 9
Place the biryani pan on high heat and wait until steam starts to come out. Let the steam pass for 1 minute. Meanwhile, roll the dough into tubes and use the dough to seal the lid of the biryani mold by sticking it to the edge. Place the pan on an iron pan or tawa over medium-high heat: this is to diffuse the heat. If you don’t have an iron pan, put the biryani pan in an oven preheated to 190C/170C fan/gas 5 (375F) for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the oven to 150C/130C fan/gas 2 (300F) and leave to rest for 20 minutes. If using an iron pan or tawa on the hob, reduce the heat to low, cover the top of the pan with a clean, folded tea towel and leave to rest for 20 minutes.

Step 10
When ready to serve, unseal the biryani lid and discard the batter, discarding the batter. Using a large spoon and starting at one side, carefully lift the chicken and toss it with the rice. You need to gently merge the wet rice with the dry rice on top, so that each grain is perfectly moist. Serve.

(Recipe taken from Ammu by Asma Khan [Ebury Press]. Photograph by Laura Edwards).

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