What Is Mutton Biryani?

Megan Shoop

Mutton biryani is a mutton and rice dish traditional to Indian cuisine. The dish usually mainly consists of pieces of mutton or lamb simmered together basmati rice. Additional ingredients traditionally include a very long list of aromatic, spicy, and savory Indian herbs, yogurt, some kind of citrus flavoring and saffron. It may also contain tropical flavors, such as a papaya, coconut shavings, and chopped cashews. This dish is commonly served as a stew and may be accompanied with bread, though some find the rice so filling that bread isn’t really necessary.

Chili powder is commonly added to mutton biryani.
Chili powder is commonly added to mutton biryani.

Most mutton biryani recipes start with a marinade. This usually consists of plain yogurt or lemon-infused yogurt curd mixed together with spices. These usually includes a combination of cardamom, garlic, hot pepper flakes, mint, ginger, onions, turmeric, and saffron. Cooks may use all of these spices, or just choose their favorites. Once the yogurt marinade is thoroughly mixed together, the cook should add the lamb or mutton pieces and stir it until all of the meat is coated in the spiced yogurt. This may be refrigerated overnight or prepared right before the cook starts making the rice.

Cardamom is commonly used to flavor mutton biryani.
Cardamom is commonly used to flavor mutton biryani.

Basmati rice has a nutty flavor that many people like to combine with mutton and lamb. Cooks should boil the rice in water until the outside begins to soften but the grains are still hard inside. At this point, the cook should add a few dollops of butter or a few spoonfuls of cooking oil to a pan set over medium heat. When the oil or butter begins to sizzle, the cook may add the marinated lamb or mutton pieces.

Papaya is sometimes used in mutton biryani.
Papaya is sometimes used in mutton biryani.

The next steps to making mutton biryani can seem complicated, but, if they’re done properly, the rice and meat should both be cooked through. While the meat sizzles on the bottom of the pan, the cook should stir some spices into the rice and spoon it over the top of the meat. The cook should then cover the pan. Traditionally, Indian cooks press dough made of flour and water around the edges of the lid to seal in the heat.

Mint goes well with mutton dishes.
Mint goes well with mutton dishes.

Herbs and spices that may be added to the rice before the pan is covered include mint, black pepper, curry powder, salt, and chili powder. Often, cooks reserve some of the herbs used in the yogurt marinade and add them to the rice just before putting it into the pan. Both the spiced rice and the meat should simmer for about 20 minutes. After that, the mutton biryani may be served with naan bread or over fried potatoes. Cooks including papaya or coconut in mutton biryani may want to serve the rice-and-meat dish by itself.

Yogurt is a traditional ingredient in mutton biryani.
Yogurt is a traditional ingredient in mutton biryani.
Common spices in mutton biryani include chili powder and black peppercorns.
Common spices in mutton biryani include chili powder and black peppercorns.

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