Biryani: Masterpiece Of Chefs From The Mughal Emperors’ Kitchen
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The word Biryani comes from two Persian words-Birian, meaning ‘fried before cooking,’ and Birinj, or rice. Ancient cookbooks claim that biryani originated in Persia and came to India through the Mughals. It was further developed into various varieties by the chefs of the Mughal royal kitchen. British historian Lizzie Collingham claims that the modern biryani was developed in the royal kitchens of the Mughal empire, and is a mix of the native spicy rice dishes of India and the Persian pilaf. 

It is said that nothing tickled the taste buds of the Mughal rulers more than delicacies like biryani, shamikababs, and tandoori kabab with shahi tukre. Among the Mughal emperors, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Mohammad Shah Rangila were said to be true connoisseurs of food. 

Akbar hada frugal appetite, but one of his navratnas (nine gems of Akbar’s court) Abul Fazl, reportedly had a huge appetite.8 maunds, or 37 kg, of khichdi was cooked on his orders and anybody could join him in the meal. 

Mughal Emperors and Biryani

Mughal ‘lore’ is dotted with anecdotes regarding biryani. Legend has it that, on one occasion, Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal visited the army barracks and noticed the soldiers looked famished. She had the royal cooks prepare biryani for the ravenous soldiers and feed them till their hunger was sated. 

The last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, even in his advanced years, savoured the delicacies prepared by Mir Bakwal, the head of the royal kitchen. Bakwal was known to prepare biryani and other dishes using venison, quail, and partridge meat frequently.

Given the storied legacy of biryani in India, and its enduring popularity, we present two popular biryani recipes that come from royal kitchens of two kingdoms that mastered the art of the biryani:

Mughlai Biryani

This was one of the popular biryanis made for the Mughal emperor and his family and was known for its fine taste and rich flavour.


    2 cups basmati rice

    500 gm chicken thighs

    1 cup of yogurt

    2 tablespoons of lime juice

    2tablespoon of ginger-garlic paste

    7 tablespoons of vegetable oil

    4 large onions diced

    2one-inch cinnamon sticks

    6-7 whole peppercorns

    6 cloves

    4black cardamoms

    3 teaspoons of ground coriander powder

    2 teaspoons of cumin powder

    1 tablespoon of garam masala powder

    1/2 cup of cashew nuts and almonds

    2 tablespoons of chopped coriander leaves

    2 tablespoons of chopped mint (pudina) leaves

    Salt to taste


    Wash the rice well and boil it till its 90% cooked. Strain out the water and keep it aside. 

    Grind the cashew almonds to a smooth paste. 

    Add 3 tablespoons of oil in a pan and the onions till they are brown. 

    Add the remaining oil to a heavy-bottomed vessel, and fry the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and peppercorns in it. 

    Add the onions and fry till they become luminous and then add the ginger-garlic paste to it and fry. 

    Add the almond paste and cook for 5 minutes and then add the spice powders and mix them gently. 

    When the oil starts to leave the sides of the vessel, add the chicken and cook till it is done. 

    Add the chicken stock, yogurt (dahi), lime juice, coriander (dhania), and mint leaves. 

    Add the salt and cover the vessel and let it cook till the meat is tender.

    In a big pot, layer the cooked rice and then the cooked chicken layer on top. Add another layer of rice on top of it and another layer of chicken and cover the pot.

    The pot should be tightly covered and allowed to cook on low heat for 20 minutes.

    Serve it hot and eat immediately.

Hyderabadi Dum Biryani

For many foodies in India, there is no parallel to the Hyderabadi DumBiryani.This (almost) undisputed leader of biryanis came into existence after Mughal emperor Aurangzeb declared Asaf Jah I as the Nizam-Ul-Mulk, the leader of the Hyderabad region. Thenizam’s cooks invented around 50 different varieties of biryanis using ingredients like fish, deer, quail, and hare meat.


    1 kgof basmati rice

    1 kg of mutton

    2 large onions diced

    2 cups of dahi

    4 tablespoons of ginger-garlic paste

    2 cups of vegetable oil

    2 tablespoons of ghee

    2 tablespoons of milk 

    1/2 cup of cashew nuts

    1 teaspoon of cumin powder

    2-3 bay leaves

    6 green cardamoms

    6 black cardamoms

    10 black peppercorns

    1 cinnamon stick

    1 teaspoon of turmeric powder

    3 teaspoons of red chilli powder

    2 teaspoons of garam masala powder 

    Half a cup of mint (pudina) leaves

    One cup of coriander (dhania) leaves

    6 strands of saffron

    Salt to taste


    Wash the rice well and keep it aside. In a heavy-bottomed vessel, add the rice, salt, bay leaves, green cardamoms, black pepper, and cinnamon stick and cook till the rice is almost done. 

    Drain out the water and keep the rice aside. Add the saffron strands to the milk and leave to soak.

    In a wok, add oil and half of the onions and fry till golden brown and keep aside. 

    In a bowl, marinate the mutton pieces with ginger-garlic paste, salt, red chili powder, garam masala, coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder, half-fried onions, yogurt, coriander leaves, mint leaves, and one tablespoon of oil. Allow it to rest for 2 hours.

    In a pan add some of the ghee, cinnamon, and black cardamoms, and let it fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining onions and cook till light brown.

    Add the marinated mutton to it and cook on high flame for 5 minutes. Cover and cook for some more time on low heat till the meat is tender. 

    Add the remaining ghee in a big pot and layer some of the rice layers on it, then add a layer of mutton over the rice and sprinkle some mint leaves on it.

    Now spread the remaining rice on it and pour the saffron milk on it and cover and cook on dum (low heat) for 15-20 minutes.