Chicken Biryani

Chicken Biryani

The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Marination Time: 2 hrs
Total: 3 hrs
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Yield: 2 quarts
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
351 Calories
16g Fat
28g Carbs
26g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 351
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 16g 21%
Saturated Fat 6g 29%
Cholesterol 117mg 39%
Sodium 872mg 38%
Total Carbohydrate 28g 10%
Dietary Fiber 3g 10%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 26g
Vitamin C 7mg 36%
Calcium 143mg 11%
Iron 4mg 24%
Potassium 558mg 12%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

When it comes to biryani, there is no such a thing as one variety. The Indian subcontinent serves up different versions depending on which country you’re eating it in, for an Indian biryani is different from one in Pakistan, and that’s different from one in Bangladesh.

What Is a Biryani?

A few characteristics tie most biryanis together. First, spices are always used to marinate or cook the protein. Second, in biryani rice is paired with a protein or vegetables, either goat, lamb, chicken, seafood, paneer, potatoes, or even chickpeas and tempeh. Finally, a biryani is always cooked in multiple layers and finished in a closed vessel in its own steam. This is also known as “dum” cooking. 

Even within India, a biryani from the northern regions is drastically different from what you’ll find in the southernmost tip of the country. To try to sum up biryani neatly, it is a layered rice-based dish containing marinated pieces of protein or vegetables. But even then there is one variety of biryani from Kerala that uses no rice, and instead has meat cooked with tapioca or cassava root.

This is all to say that every corner of India showcases a variety of biryanis, but in principle it’s mainly rice and meat with several vegetarian iterations. 

The Biryani With One Thousand Faces

While all varieties of biryani are important, a few are more popular than others. Lucknowi biryani falls under the Awadhi style of cooking (Awadhs were a branch of Mughals). This variety of biryani is fragrant but the flavors are subtle and nuanced.

The Kolkata style of biryani belongs to West Bengal and was learnt from the Muslim royals around 1856, when the last Nawab of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah, was dethroned by the British and exiled to Kolkata during the reign of Queen Victoria. What separates it from the original Mughal biryani is the addition of potatoes. This is to say that each region in India has its own “signature” biryani. 

This biryani is a simple chicken-based version that I learned and adapted from an Indian Muslim friend. While it has the richness of Indian spices, it isn’t as subtle as the Lucknowi variety, nor is it as robust as the South Indian version. You’ll find your sweet spot with my versatile chicken biryani.

Tips for Making Chicken Biryani

  • Serve it layered — Do not mix up the rice with chicken while serving, simply serve it in a layered form. 
  • Where to find biryani masala — Biryani masala can be found at most Indian markets. Some blends contain salt. If so, omit the additional salt from the chicken marinade.
  • What kind of chilli powder to use — For the red chilli powder, look for an Indian red chilli powder (they are often simply labeled “red chilli powder” in Indian markets). In a pinch, unsmoked paprika can be used. Do not use American-style chili powder (the blend of spices used in making American meat and bean chili). Keep in mind that red chilli powders can vary a lot in heat level, so taste a smidge by itself to see how spicy it is, and adjust the amount used in the recipe accordingly.
  • Cooking the rice — After par-cooking the rice, it should still have a little bite to it. It will finish steaming with the chicken and during that time will pick up the fragrant aroma of the spices the chicken was cooked with.

“Chicken Biryani is a layered chicken and rice dish full of Indian flavors and spices. The savory chicken mixture, fragrant basmati rice, and rich spices come together with fresh cilantro and mint to create a flavorful one pot meal.” —Joan Velush

Rice with spiced chicken and cilantro garnish
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt

  • 2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste, or 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger plus 1 tablespoon minced garlic

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon) 

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons biryani masala, preferably salt-free

  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red chilli powder, depending on your spice tolerance

  • 1 green chilli, such as serrano, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt, divided

  • 1 pinch saffron threads

  • 5 tablespoons milk

  • 2 cups basmati rice

  • 2 tablespoons ghee

  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 8 peppercorns

  • 1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick

  • 1/2 cup French-fried onions, or store-bought fried shallots, divided

  • 1 Roma tomato, grated

  • 1 tablespoon garam masala, store-bought or homemade

  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped

  • 1/3 cup mint leaves, finely chopped

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients to make chicken biryani

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  2. Mix the chicken with the yogurt, ginger-garlic paste, lemon juice, biryani masala, coriander, cumin, red chilli powder, green chilli, turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt (only add salt if your biryani masala is salt-free) in a large bowl. Coat the chicken in the ingredients well and allow the meat to marinate, covered and refrigerated, for at least 2 hours or overnight.

    A large bowl of chicken thigh meat marinating in chicken with the yogurt, ginger-garlic paste, lemon juice, biryani masala, coriander, cumin, red chilli powder, green chilli, turmeric, and salt

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  3. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Combine the saffron and milk in a small bowl and let steep while you prepare the biryani.

    A bowl of saffron and milk

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  4. Place the rice in a medium bowl and add cool water to cover. Let soak while you cook the biryani.

    A large bowl of rice soaking in water

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  5. In a deep, heavy-bottomed cooking vessel such as a Dutch oven, heat the ghee over medium until shimmering and add the cumin seeds, bay leaves, peppercorns, and cinnamon stick. Cook, stirring constantly, until the spices become fragrant and darken slightly, about 1 minute.

    A dutch oven with cumin seeds, bay leaves, peppercorns, and cinnamon stick cooking in ghee

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  6. Add 1/4 cup of the fried onions and the tomato and cook this mixture for 3 to 4 minutes or until the tomato turns jammy.

    Fried onions and tomatoes added to the dutch oven with the cumin seed-cinnamon stick mixture

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  7. Add the chicken along with the marinade and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken loses its raw color and is almost cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the garam masala and stir well.

    Marinated chicken thigh pieces, marinade, and garam masala added to the dutch oven

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  8. While the chicken is cooking, heat 5 cups of water and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan and allow it to reach a rolling boil. Drain the soaked rice in a fine mesh sieve.

    A pot of boiling water

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  9. Add the drained rice to the boiling water and cook for 5 to 6 minutes on medium heat, until al dente. Do not fully cook the rice. Drain the rice in a colander or strainer and keep aside.

    Partially cooked rice in a mesh strainer

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  10. Once the chicken is almost cooked, top it with the par-boiled rice rice, making sure to cover the meat fully. At this point, the rice and chicken both are semi-cooked and only have a few minutes further to go.

    Partially cooked rice added to the top of the chicken mixture in a dutch oven

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  11. Top the rice with the remaining 1/4 cup fried onions and drizzle the biryani with the saffron-milk mixture.

    A dutch oven with chicken thighs topped with rice, topped with saffron milk and fried onions

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  12. Cover the cooking vessel, transfer it to the preheated oven, and allow it to cook for about 10 minutes or until the rice is tender. Garnish with the cilantro and mint leaves.

    A dutch oven of chicken biryani, served with cilantro and mint

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

How to Store Leftover Biryani

Refrigerate leftover biryani in in an airtight container for up to 4 days. 

Recipe Variation

You can replace the chicken with cubed paneer or waxy potatoes for a vegetarian version of the dish. Marinate them in the same way as the meat and add to your biryani. Cooking time will vary for each protein, so consider it done once tender.