Chicken Biryani, Layered Pakhi Style


It was the first weekend and only 2 days since we had moved from Boston to beautiful Colorado. The boxes had just come in. Which means, I finally had a pot and the spices I needed to make biryani – our very first home-cooked meal here. That’s how much we love the dish. But turns out, even the best of recipes can get too familiar to the palette and you then want to find out what else exists out there. Everyone who knows the dish knows there are as many methods to make biryani as there are stars in the sky (metaphorically speaking, that is)! So I read all about biryanis. Saw innumerable videos and read even more blogs than I can remember. I learnt about kachi-style (raw meat, semi-cooked rice cooked together = sounds complicated) and pakhi-style (pre-made curry and rice layered and steamed together = Hmm, definitely do-able). Although at first it seemed to me like just mixing rice with curry might not be the best way to make biryani, I soon realized that when it is done this could be the perfect shortcut to a dream biryani. I began experimenting – and thus began D’s woes. Cause most of the time, we’d end up with either the wrong texture, not-quite-there-taste or something in-between. And every time, the rice was what would let me down. So you’ll thank me later for the elaborate steps in the recipe here on how to cook rice. Totally worth it. And don’t miss the notes (all the way at the end)!


Just when I was almost ready to give up and stay-put with my tried and tested one-pot biryani, P served this biryani over a dinner get-together. And thus began our talks about a cook-together session. M&P are one of the best things that happened to us when we moved to CO. To fully understand why we and these ardent-foodies get along like a house on fire, you’ll need to understand the difference between piriyar and veriyar.  Both are Tamil language words – the former is used to describe someone who really likes something, while the latter (not quite a real word) best describes the fanatics of the world! So, back to M&P – these 2 happen to be biryani veriyars! In my defense, M has an app on his phone that actually helps locate the best biryani in any town – really?! Well, I can’t complain – cause I got this absolutely-awesome recipe from P, which might easily be the closest thing to restaurant-style layered biryani that can be put together at home fairly quickly (almost, at least!). No one needs to know how the curry and rice get made separately and then come together for less than 30 minutes to become this super-flavorful biryani that is sure to impress. Plus, the recipe is make-ahead-friendly (like a lot of other recipes I plan on learning from P!), which makes it real easy to entertain with. And thus ended my quest. At least for a while. There will be a time when I will want to start again, to try and conquer kachi-style biryani. But for now, this is all we need!


Oh, did I mention that M cooks too? He’s got a crowd-pleaser-recipe up his sleeve too… but that’s for another post! Here’s a glimpse if you’d like, from what got made during our cook-together session!


Chicken Biryani, Layered Pakhi Style

Prep Time: 30 minutes | Cooking Time: 1 hour | Serves: 6 – 8


For the chicken marinade:

  1. 3 lbs chicken, medium cuts (leg & thigh, or mixed whole chicken pieces – do not use white meat alone)
  2. 3 medium tomatoes, chopped (about 1.5 cups)
  3. 1 cup plain yogurt
  4. 1/4 cup ground ginger and garlic paste
  5. 1 tsp garam masala
  6. 1 tsp red chili powder (this is for a mild version, adjust to taste. I added a little under 1.5 tsp)
  7. 1 tsp ground coriander
  8. 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  9. 3/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stem, finely chopped
  10. 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  11. juice of 1 lime/ lemon, adjust to taste
  12. salt to taste

For the curry:

  1. 3-4 Tbsp oil (substitute in part with butter or ghee for a richer flavor)
  2. 1 piece of cinnamon stick
  3. 6-7 green cardamons (remove seeds for 4 and coarsely pound)
  4. 4-6 cloves
  5. 2 dried bay leaves
  6. 1/2 tsp garam masala
  7. 3 medium onion, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
  8. 2 tbsp plain yogurt
  9. 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  10. salt to taste

For the rice:

  1. 3 cups basmati rice
  2. 1 cinnamon stick
  3. 1 or 2 dried bay leaves
  4. 1 tbsp butter or ghee
  5. salt to taste

For the assembly:

  1. 1/3 cup fried onions
  2. 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stem, finely chopped
  3. 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  4. few strands of saffron, crushed and dissolved in 2-3 tbsp warm milk


Step 1: Marinate chicken


  1. Make bone-deep gashes to the larger pieces of chicken.
  2. Mix together all the ingredients listed for the marinade, check the taste and adjust salt/spice/tanginess if necessary.
  3. Rub in the marinade mix into the chicken until it is all well combined.
  4. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Step 2: Prepare curry


Note: Bring chicken marinade mix to room temperature before adding it to the curry.

  1. Heat oil/butter in a heavy bottom pan.
  2. Add the whole spices – cinnamon, cloves, cardamon (crushed and whole), bay leaves – and garam masala powder.
  3. Saute for just under a minute, being careful not to burn the spices.
  4. Add the sliced onions, along with some salt to help them cook and brown faster.
  5. Cook on medium to med-high heat until the onions are well done and turn golden brown, but not burnt or charred.
  6. Add the marinated chicken mixture to the browned onions. 
  7. Saute for a few minutes until chicken begins to release water and starts getting cooked.
  8. Cook with lid on until chicken is fully done – the gravy should be somewhat thick and oil begins to ooze from the mixture.
  9. Note: Sometimes the meat does not let out enough moisture and water might be needed to bring the curry to the right consistency.
  10. Mix together the ground cinnamon in 2 spoons of yogurt and add it to the chicken curry.
  11. Combine and let it cook until the curry comes to a boil and turn off the heat.

Step 3: Prepare rice


  1. Wash and drain the rice thoroughly.
  2. Soak rice in water for at least 20 minutes but under 45 minutes. This helps the rice grains expand well and cook to the longest length possible.
  3. Stove-top method:
    • Add the rice, cinnamon, butter, bay leaves, salt and about 9-10 cups water to a large pot, to submerge the rice fully plus allow it room to cook and expand.
    • Taste the water to make sure it is salted well.
    • Cook on med-high, checking all the time by tasting the grains, until the rice is just done i.e., when it no longer breaks into pieces when you bite into it but is fully cooked.
    • Take it off the heat immediately to stop it from cooking any further or you rick making the texture mushy.
    • Drain onto a colander or using a cheese-cloth, until it has been drained off all the water. Be careful to not let the steam burn you.
    • Let it rest for a few minutes on a large tray, in a single layer, if it still seems moist and not easily separated into single grains.
  4. Rice-cooker method:
    • Add the rice, cinnamon, butter, bay leaves, salt and 5.5 cups water (i.e., if typical ratio is 6 cups water for 3 cups rice, we need to take out some water to cook the rice to be al dente or just little under well-done ~95%).
    • Taste the water to make sure it is salted well.
    • Cook until done, and turn off the power right after that (do not let it stay on warm for extra time).
    • Let it rest for at least 15-20 minutes before trying to fluff up the rice and separate the grains.

Step 4: Assemble biryani layers and cook it


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Keep all the items needed for the layering at hands reach: curry, cooked rice, fried onions, chopped cilantro and mint, saffron milk, extra butter/ghee.
  3. Lightly grease a roasting pan or deep and large baking dish with butter/ghee.
  4. Add a layer of rice (about 40% of the rice).
  5. Add most of the chicken pieces from the curry and then spread out some of the curry across the layer of rice.
  6. Sprinkle some chopped herbs and fried onions over the meat.
  7. Add another layer of rice (another 40%).
  8. Add remaining chicken pieces and most of the gravy remaining (save some for the last layer).
  9. Sprinkle some chopped herbs and fried onions over the meat.
  10. Top off the remaining rice in a thin last layer.
  11. Top off the remaining curry over some of the rice.
  12. Add some more herbs and fried onions.
  13. Finish off by sprinkling the saffron milk over the white patches of rice on the top layer.
  14. Add a few dabs of butter or spoon some ghee over the top later for added flavor.
  15. Seal the pan with foil and/or heavy tight-sealing lid (make sure it is oven-safe if using the oven).
  16. Bake for 25-30 minutes or longer if enough steam is not generated to steam the layers of rice and meat together.
  17. Note: This can be done without an oven as well, using the dum-cooking method i.e., placing the pot with the layers on top of a heavy girdle or skillet to steam cook the biryani.

Let the biryani rest for a few minutes before removing the foil/lid and gently mixing the layers a little to serve. And don’t forget to make your favorite raita to go with it!



  • Rice is the real deal here, not the curry. So cooking the rice right is key to getting the biryani right!
  • Good quality, aged-basmati rice is what you want to use for the recipe. Some of the good brands I’ve tried are Tilda, Laxmi.
  • It is easier to control the rice’s texture with the stove-pot method but it is important to be careful when draining the water – use a colander or cheese-cloth to completely drain off all the water.
  • Watch the salt, cause you are seasoning every step in the process (the marinade has salt, the onions in the curry get salted before the marinade is added, the rice has salt).
8 Responses to “Chicken Biryani, Layered Pakhi Style”
  1. Renuka says:

    Look forward to trying your biriyani recipe. Looks delicious . Love the step by step guide and photos. Keep them coming

  2. Preeti says:

    Looks delicious…totally worth the steps…this is making me salivate!. YAAY for finding foodie friends!.

  3. Aish,
    – I thank you right now for the elaborate steps in the recipe and the illustrations. Excellent!
    Last week, I posted chicken biryani hyderabadi style, and I have all the ingredients to try yours now! Thank you for explaining kachi-style (raw meat, semi-cooked rice cooked together) and pakhi-style (pre-made curry and rice layered and steamed together). Although our recipes are similar, with your explanation, I see the style differences. I started smelling the spice fragrances and my mouth is watering.
    – Once you are settled, write us about your experiences in CO.

    • aishcooks says:

      Hi Fae.. thanks for those kind words! I have to say it again – your biryani looked SO awesome.. I have yet to master kachi-style and yours looks absolutely perfectly done. Definitely gonna give it a try with your recipe!

      This recipe could easily be substituted with any other chicken gravy.. but the specialty of this one happens to be the distinct cinnamon flavor from adding that just before the gravy gets done. I sure hope you like it as much as I do 🙂

      Btw – we moved to CO last year.. now you know how long some recipes stay in my drafts :p I’m loving it here in CO so far.. the mountains are absolutely the best!

      – Aish

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] I was until now – the search for THE biryani. While we were pretty happy alternating between this and this, I knew I had to try the kacchi-style before I could put the quest to […]

  2. […] first time I had it was at M & P’s home and it was served with their absolutely amazing chicken biryani. Yes – the duo happens to have not just a winning biryani recipe but also this perfect […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: