The Fake Biryani tales – Fish Biryani

The Portuguese introduced us Indians to ‘Pao’, the English brought ‘Tikka Masala’ and the Mughals got us “Biryani”. It doesn’t matter how bloody our history with our conquerors was, we all appreciated and learned a lot from each other. Whether it was the culture, the language or the food, I think the vanquishers and the subjects left a distinctive mark on each others pasts.


When the Mughals first laid their eyes on India, they hated everything they saw. The food, the climate, the culture, the people nothing pleased them. One of the chief’s of Emperor Babur complained about “how awful the food was of Hindustan (another name for India).


And hence the Mughal Khansamas (cooks) were pushed to the task of introducing the heathens to the delights of food. Food that was supposed to please not only our taste buds but also the senses.  And somewhere down the line between two conflicting cultures we were introduced to an exotic array of dishes that we now associate with “Mughlai cuisine”. And needless to say even after all these years when there are no Mughals left in India their legacy lives on in the form of food and poetry.


Since I am so obsessed with the Mughal times for me, there is nothing more glorious than the famed Biryani. It was the Persians who marinated meat with Curd but in the Mughal kitchen the marinated meat was married to fragrant rice (Pulao) to become Biryani. There are so many stories associated with how Biryani was invented but all of them about using Meat with Rice. However nowadays we find a vegetarian version and even a seafood version of this beautiful delicacy, which in reality is not authentic. And coming from Mumbai where we have abundant seafood, Fish Biryani is a favorite dish.

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However the Biryani purists will tell you that every Biryani that doesn’t have Meat is fake, so here is the recipe for a very Fake ‘Fish Biryani’. It is a no fuss, simple and quick recipe. It won’t make your heart narrate Urdu poetry, but it will make you euphoric. Don’t let the number of ingredients scare you from making this. I cook the rice and the fish at the same time and then just have to assemble everything, trust me if I can make this anyone can.

Recipe (Cooking time 1 hour, serves 6)

For the Rice

1 ½ Cup Basmati Rice

2 Bay leaves

1 tsp Shahi Jeera (Caraway seeds)

1 tsp Vegetable Oil

2 Green Cardamoms

2 Cloves

Wash the rice under water and cook with all the ingredients in 2 cups of Water. The rice will be half cooked, keep it aside as we will cook it later with the Fish.

For the Fish

200 gms Prawns

Two fillets of any white fish (Barramundi/Basa) I have also used Mackerel  before it works beautifully

1 tsp Turmeric powder

1 tsp Red Chilli powder

Juice of half a lemon

Salt to taste

1 tbsp Semolina

Vegetable oil to shallow fry the Fish

Cut the fillets into equal bite sized pieces. Rub the Turmeric powder, Chilli powder, Salt and Lemon juice on the fish and leave to marinade for 15 minutes.

Heat oil in a pan.

Pour the Semolina in a dish or Kitchen towel and coat the marinated fish pieces on all sides.

Shallow fry the fish till Golden brown on all sides but completely cooked, usually 3 – 4 minutes on each side. Drain on a kitchen towel and keep aside.

For the Biryani

`1 large Onion finely chopped

2 large ripe Tomatoes chopped

1 tsp fresh Ginger paste

2 -3 green chillies finely chopped

1 tsp Cumin seeds

1 Bay leaf

One tsp Turmeric powder

One tsp Red chilli powder

1 ½ tsp Coriander powder

1 tbsp freshly chopped Coriander

Salt to taste

1 tbsp Vegetable Oil

Heat oil in a big thick bottomed pan in which you will assemble the Biryani.

Add the Cumin seeds, Green Chillies and Ginger and cook for a few seconds.

Add the Onion and sauté till translucent. Now put the Tomatoes, turmeric powder, coriander powder, chilli powder and Salt and cook till mushy and then add the fresh Coriander.

Add 1 cup of hot water and bring to a boil.

Lower the flame and place the fish pieces gently in this mixture.

Gently layer with the par boiled Rice.

For the Garnish

1/3 cup Milk

A few strands of Saffron

Juice of 1 Lemon

Freshly chopped Coriander

Warm the milk and add the Saffron in it, leave aside for 10 minutes.

Once you have layered the Rice on top of the fish, garnish the rice with Saffron Milk.

Add the Lemon juice in between any gaps (Don’t put the Lemon juice on the milk or it will curdle).

Cover and cook for 15 minutes on a low flame.

Serve hot garnished with fresh Coriander and Lemon wedges.

Source : Lizzie Collingham “Curry A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors”





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