Chicken thigh biryani

Chicken thigh biryani

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  • 6
  • Medium
  • Fat conscious
  • 35 minutes, plus 2 hours’ soaking time
  • 1½ hours
  • Woolworths Spier Chardonnay

Biriani (also spelled breyani and biryani in the Cape) is Indian of origin but has been embraced by the Muslim community in the Cape as their own.


  • 400 g long-grain rice
  • 2 litres cold water
  • 1 T sea salt
  • ½ t ground turmeric
  • 2 T warm milk
  • 4 medium onions, 1 finely chopped and 3 sliced into rings
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 x 4 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled
  • 4 T sunflower oil
  • 100 g seedless raisins or sultanas
  • 60 g slivered almonds
  • 1.5 kg free-range skinless boneless chicken thighs, halved
  • 1 cup plain yoghurt
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • fresh parsley or coriander, chopped
  • 3 free-range eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and quartered
  • For the spice mix:
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 t cumin seeds
  • 2 t coriander seeds
  • 1 x 4 cm cinnamon stick
  • a good grating of nutmeg
  • ½ t cayenne pepper

Cooking Instructions

1. Rinse the rice well, changing the water frequently. Place in a large bowl, pour over the cold water and add the salt. Allow to stand for about 2 hours. This will keep the rice as white as possible and keep the grains separate. Dissolve the turmeric in the warm milk and set aside.

2. Place the chopped onion, garlic and ginger and a little water into a blender and process until you have a smooth paste. Set aside.

3. Heat the oil in a heavy-based casserole dish and fry the sliced onion until brown and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.

4. In the same pan using the same oil, repeat the process with the raisins or sultanas and the almonds, frying them until the raisins or sultanas fatten up and the almonds are a light golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

5. Brown the chicken pieces all over in the same oil. Drain and set aside on kitchen paper. Add more oil to the casserole if necessary and add the onion, garlic and ginger paste and fry gently, adding a little water if necessary to prevent sticking, until the paste takes on a light brown colour. Add the yoghurt a spoonful at a time, stirring well between each addition. Place the chicken pieces on top of the mixture. Cover the casserole and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, place the spice mix ingredients into a pestle and mortar and pound together or grind in a spice or coffee grinder until quite fine. When the chicken has cooked for 30 minutes, skim off any oil from the surface using a spoon or kitchen paper. Sprinkle over the spice mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste, turn the chicken pieces over and bake, covered, for a further 30 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, rinse the rice again and boil in lots of well salted water for 6 minutes. Pile the rice on top of the chicken in the casserole, in a pyramid, then drizzle the turmeric milk down the sides. Sprinkle over a few of the browned onions. Cover tightly with foil and the lid and bake for a further 20 minutes.

8. When ready to serve, gently mix the chicken and the rice with the parsley or coriander and garnish with the remaining browned onions, raisins or sultanas and almonds. Place the egg quarters decoratively on top. Serve with a green vegetable, such as shredded steamed cabbage flavoured with nutmeg.

This is an extract with permission from Michael Olivier’s book Friends. Food. Flavour. Great South African Recipes. It is published by Penguin Random House South Africa and retails for R400.

Find more South African recipes here.

Photograph: Mike Robinson 
Illustrations: Roelien Immelman

Michael Olivier Recipe by: Michael Olivier
View all recipes

Michael Olivier is a well-known South African Wine commentator. Trained at the Cordon Bleu school of Cookery in London, he ran some of the Cape’s most popular restaurants. Michael was a Chef on the Expresso Breakfast TV show for a number of years. He has published five books, including Friends. Food. Flavour.

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    Nico le Roux
    August 9, 2022

    I made this and I would like to suggest some improvements (I’m not a chef).
    1. The spice mixed in at the end is too late. The dish is pretty bland to be honest.
    2. I would also suggest adding star anise, bay leaf, fennel seeds, salt and pepper to the spice mix. With the cinnamon stick in the spice, I would suggest a blender to mix the spices. A pestle and mortar is not good with sticks. (You need to fry the chicken with spices, including salt and pepper, otherwise the chicken will be bland)
    3. I would also suggest the following order to make. Fry onions in oil in casserole until soft, add nuts and raisins and fry, add paste and fry, add chicken and fry for 3min, add spices, fry for 3 minutes, add splash of water, fry for 3 minutes, add 4 chopped tomatoes and fry on low for 4 minutes. You need a lot of initial oil, but it will be removed in the next step.
    4. Remove excess oil and add yoghurt and mix together.
    6. Cover casserole and put in oven for 60 minutes, turning half way.
    7. Do rest of recipe (rice etc.)

    I know this is a fat conscious recipe, but there is no reason to remove the ingredients to drain the excess oil, if it will be removed at the end in any case. It just makes it unnecessarily difficult. Just my opinion.