King Fish Biryani


Many years ago…I think it was in the mid nineties, a friend of ours happened to visit us one Sunday morning & we asked her to join us for lunch. I wanted to spend time with her so I thought of putting together a one pot meal on the spur of the moment with the ingredients I had in my fridge. While preparing this biryani, I was imagining the taste & the presentation. It was purely my creation. It was so aromatic & delicious & everyone was amazed that I could prepare such a wonderful sea food biryani. This king fish biryani is flavorful & has a regal appearance to it…

Ingredients :

  • 400 gms Basmati Rice
  • Whole Masala (4 cloves, 1stick cinnamon, 3 green cardamom, 2 black cardamom, 1 bay leaf, 5 peppercorns, 1 tsp. shahjeera 1 star anise)
  • 10 slices fresh Surmai (King Fish)
  • 3 med. Onions (sliced thinly)
  • 4 tbsps. fresh Garlic paste
  • 3 tbsps. fresh Ginger paste
  • 2 med. fresh Tomatoes
  • ½ cup Curds (Yoghurt)
  • 1 Star anise
  • 1 tbsp. Red Chilli pwd.
  • 1 tsp. Turmeric pwd.
  • 3 tbps. Coriander pwd.
  • 1 tbsp. Garam Masala pwd.
  • 1 tbsp. fresh Mint paste
  • 2 tbsp. fresh Coriander paste
  • ½ tsp. Green Chilli paste
  • ¼ tsp. Nutmeg & green cardamom pwd. (freshly ground)
  • A handful of fresh Coriander leaves (chopped )
  • 2 tbsps. fresh Mint (chopped)
  • A pinch of Sugar
  • A few strands of Saffron /yellow & orange food color
  • ¼ cup warm Milk
  • 3 cups Water
  • Juice of 2 Limes
  • Few drops of Kewra Essence or Rose Water or Essence
  • 1 tbsp. Ghee (clarified butter)
  • 5 tbsps. Vegetable Oil
  • Salt to taste

Method :

Pre-preparation of Fish :
Wash the fish slices & drain completely. Apply 1 tbsp. each of garlic & ginger pastes, a little salt & ¼ tsp. turmeric & marinate for about 30 mins.

Preparation of Rice :
Pick & wash rice & soak in water for about 45 mins.

Boil rice in sufficient water with a tsp. of salt till cooked but has a bite.

Drain out the water from the rice through a sieve or colander & pass quickly through running water so that the grains are separate & does not have starch.

Keep aside to cool.

In a deep pan or a sufficiently large wok heat oil till hot.

Reduce heat; add the whole garam masala & saute for a while till the masala crackles & releases its flavor in the oil.

Then with a slotted spoon lift the fried whole masala & place on the rice.

Keep the rice covered so that it retains the flavor of the whole masala.

In the same pan fry the finely sliced onions till they are light golden & crisp.

Remove the  fried onions with the slotted spoon & keep aside to cool.

In the same pan, now add star anise, the remaining ginger garlic pastes, tomatoes, turmeric pwd., red  chilli pwd., coriander pwd., garam masala pwd. & saute.

Cook till the tomatoes in the masala are soft.

Reserve a few fried onions for garnishing & then crush the remaining fried onions & add it to the masala in the  pan.

Now add the green chilli mint & coriander pastes; saute & let it cook for about a minute.

Add curds, sugar, nutmeg – cardamom pwd. & mix well.

Let the mix cook till rawness disappears & you can see slight separation of oil.

Add about 3 cups of water & let it come to a boil.

Reduce heat slightly & slide in the marinated fish. Let the fish cook gently on simmer & the gravy is slightly thick.

Mix in 1 tsp. lime juice & adjust salt to taste.

Turn the fish gently. Taking great care that the fish does not break.

Put a few chopped mint & coriander leaves to the fish gravy & keep aside.

Assembling the Fish Biryani :
Soak saffron in warm milk & crush it.

Mix liquid food color in a little water. (Mix both colors separately).

In a casserole or a deep pan, assemble the fish biryani by alternating layers of rice with the fish masala. The final layer should be plain rice.

On the final layer sprinkle the reserved fried onions, some chopped coriander & mint leaves & some lime juice.

Now sprinkle crushed saffron along with milk.

Then sprinkle separate food colors & diluted rose or kewra essence.

Finally, warm 1 tsp. vegetable oil with 1 tbsp. ghee & pour on top.

Cover with lid & then microwave on high for 10 mins or heat in a hot oven for 20 mins or by cooking on dum..i.e. indirect heat to the pan for about 25 mins on low heat.

Let the biryani settle for a while in the pot before serving.

Serve hot with your favourite accompaniment of raita or green salad.

Variations :

  • You can use boneless fillets if desired.
  • You can pan fry the fish before adding to the masala.
  • You can pan fry the fish with the bone & then debone & use smaller pieces if you like.

Tips :

  1.  It is not essential to use food colors. If using, use colors sparingly.
  2. Fish with bones adds to the taste of the biryani.
  3. Cooled rice in the fridge or leftover rice helps to retain the full grain of rice.
  4. If you notice that the rice is too starchy, only then rinse the rice quickly in running water.
  5. Cooking biryani in advance helps the flavors of the masala to meld & enhances the taste while eating.
  6. Slightly sour curds (yoghurt) adds a better tang to the biryani.

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