Biryani Vs Pulao: Chef Kunal Kapur Explains The Big Difference

If you had to choose between a pulao and a biryani, which would you pick? Both these rice-based staple dishes are usually key parts of any dinner table. While pulao is lighter and more palatable than biryani, the latter is the crowning glory of any menu owing to its rich, fragrant profile and layering of tender meat with fluffy rice. However, chef Kunal Kapur recently took to his Instagram to point out the intertwining histories of these two rice dishes and also talked about their key differences.

“Pulao was first made in Central Asia, which is modern-day Baghdad. That too with meat. When this meat pulao or yakhni pulao came to India, different types of spices were added to it. And inspired by the pulao, biryani was made in India for the first time,” Kapur shares. 

The origin of pulao is said to be earlier than that of biryani, and it is regarded as a less complex version of biryani. The origins of yakhni pulao can be traced back to the Mughal era, which spanned from the 16th to the 19th century.

In his video, the chef broke down the one aspect which makes pulao so different from biryani and it has to do with the cooking of the meat. Turns out pulao relies on a much milder recipe, while biryani uses the ‘bhuna’ technique. “While cooking pulao meat is always boiled with spices. While cooking biryani, meat is always stir-fried in oil and ghee. Boiling and frying is the biggest difference between pulao and biryani,” he said.

In pulao, rice is typically cooked together with spices, vegetables, and/or meat in a single pot or cooker. The ingredients are usually cooked together with the rice, resulting in a more integrated flavour.

Whereas Biryani involves a more complex and layered cooking process. The meat (often marinated) and partially cooked rice are layered in a pot, with each layer having its own set of spices, herbs, and condiments. The pot is then sealed to trap steam and flavours, allowing the rice and meat to cook together slowly, resulting in distinct layers of flavours. 

Pulao is more homogenised than a biryani as the ingredients are mixed together during cooking and rice, vegetables, and meat are evenly distributed. Biryani, however, is characterized by its layers, with rice and meat arranged in alternating layers in the cooking pot. This layering allows the flavours of the meat and spices to infuse the rice while cooking, creating distinct layers of flavour and texture.