I'm going to deviate from the path with this one. Normally on The Greasy Spoon, I try to cover classic food and get to the bottom of authentic recipes. Hand up, I admit that the recipe I'm about to give you ain't a proper biryani- it's undoubtably a bastardised version, but so juicy, quick and delicious, I couldn't resist posting it. It's based on a recipe from allrecipes.co.uk, but I've unashamedly changed it in various ways.
What is a biryani? I'm afraid many people in Britain just assume it's "Indian"- whatever that means. The story of the biryani, however, is far more complex. It originated in Persia, the name coming from the Persian word beryā(n) (بریان) which means "fried" or "roasted" and was brought to South East Asia by spice traders. It's a popular dish in India (many different versions), Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, The Middle East (including Iran and Iraq), Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
It's a combination of rice, spices, vegetables, fish eggs and meat. For an authentic biryani, the rice and curried sauce should be cooked separately, and then combined together at the end in layers, forming a contrast between the lightly spiced rice, and the intense flavours of the sauce, meat or vegetables. It's similar in a way to our very own kedgeree- which, of course, has its roots in the British Raj.
My "after-work" version is more of an Anglicised pilaf, I suppose. You could of course tweak it to become a proper biryani- by steaming basmati rice (with the lid on) and cooking this separately, creating some sort of a spicy sauce, and then combining it all together before serving. Fried crunchy, sliced onions would be an authentic and delicious garnish.
Heat up a saucepan and add a dash of cooking oil. Add a thinly sliced onion, a sliced red chilli, and a knob of fresh ginger, (peeled and chopped). Cook on a medium heat for a few minutes until soft.
Now it' time for the spices. You're going to use cumin, coriander, turmeric and nutmeg. I would suggest that you buy the cumin and coriander as seeds, and then grind them up in a pestle and mortar until they become a fine powder. A tablespoon or so should be fine. I'm afraid that the turmeric came from the jar (about a teaspoon). The nutmeg was grated directly into the saucepan: I've got a little nutmeg grater which my mother-in-law (Gawd bless 'er) gave me for Christmas. Cook on a lowish heat for a few more minutes, so that the spices are cooked properly. The aim is to cook the spices, but not to burn them.
Stir in 225g of Uncle Ben's Long Grain Rice. This cheat's rice has had the starch removed, and so won't go mushy in the cooking. It's excellent for pilafs, in my opinion. If you were planning to use Basmati rice, you would need to rinse it first, and then "steam" on a low heat for about ten minutes with the lid on.
Stir in a tin of chopped tomatoes, and top up with hot fish stock. Add a pinch of sugar, and a pinch of salt. By the way, further cheating at this stage, as I added a dollop of Umami paste, the mysterious "fifth taste sensation" (a sort of cross between anchovies and tomatoes in flavour). Simmer the biryani on a low to medium heat, until the rice has cooked. If you think it needs it, top it up with boiling water now and again.
When the rice is cooked, stir in two packets of plebby prawns (these are those pre-cooked tiny, shrimp-like pink things you can buy in the supermarket). Take the birayni off the heat, and stir in a packet of spinach. You'll find that it wilts easily in the heat. Finish the dish off with a generous helpings of chopped fresh coriander.
If you want to research biraynis further, have a look at this video in which master chef Padma Lakshmi cooks a Royal Biryani for two hundred children in Hyderabad.