Asma Khan’s Biryani Recipe from the Darjeeling Express in London

Asma Khan’s biryani is famous – it takes a lot of strings to get a table to enjoy it at her famed Darjeeling Express restaurant in Covent Garden, London. Khan is actually one of the hottest food people in the UK. In 2017 she became the first British chef to be filmed for her own episode of the Netflix series Chef’s Table.

It’s no surprise to learn that his cooking style is influenced by his childhood in Kolkata. The city is, after all, famous for its biryani and biryani fanatics. As she puts it, “That’s all most Indians recognize: what you eat on the street, what you eat at home, and what you eat at a wedding. The food of the rich and the food of the poor.”

Khan recently published a cookbook – Ammu, named after what she calls her mother. It’s a story about their relationship and the food that binds them together. The book contains 100 recipes divided into five chapters for each decade of her life – from dishes that celebrate her childhood to what she cooks for her children in London today.

Here she shares a recipe for the perfect biryani from the book. Enjoy.

Ammu’s Chicken Biryani (for 6 persons)

Biryani has always been made for big festive occasions. In my mother’s family, it was usually made with khasi, or goat, and cooked in a giant pot with layers of rice, meat, and potatoes infused with spices and saffron. This recipe is very personal. It was the biryani that was made just for the five of us – my parents, my two siblings and me. The days when there was good news, or more generally the
days when something was wrong – whether my brother lost a cricket match or I did less well in my exams – Ammu would put this biryani on the table and suddenly everything seemed to be fine! It’s also usually the last dish I eat at home before making the five-hour drive from my parents’ house to the airport to catch my flight to London. I always had the feeling that in this biryani were things that my mother could not say. When the biryani hit the table, it was like Ammu’s secret code, telling me she loved me.

12⁄3 cups (200 g) all-purpose flour
21⁄2 cups (500g) good quality basmati rice
5 tablespoons of salt
1⁄2 teaspoon saffron strands
1⁄3 cup (80 ml) whole milk
8 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil (sometimes I mix the two and it works great)
2 white onions, thinly sliced ​​into half moons
2 lb, 3 oz (1 kg) bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2–21⁄2 in (5–6 cm) piece of fresh ginger, grated
2 tablespoons full-fat Greek yogurt
1⁄2 teaspoon chilli powder
2 green cardamom pods
2 cloves
1⁄2 in (1 cm) cinnamon stick
1⁄2 in (1 cm) piece of mace, crushed
1⁄8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1⁄4 teaspoon sugar
juice of 1⁄2 lemon


Mix the flour with enough water to make a stiff dough, cover and let stand. Wash the rice in a bowl of cold water, moving your hand in gentle circular motions in one direction to avoid breaking off the delicate nibs of the rice (the nigh invisible nibs, if broken, will quickly boil as the rice enters the pan). hot water, due to their size, and turn into glue-like starch, which will make all the rice sticky).

Wash the rice in several changes of cold water until the water remains clear. Then soak the rice. There should be about 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 in) of water in the bowl above the level of the rice. Add 6 teaspoons of salt and soak the rice for at least 2 hours. The long soaking allows the rice to absorb the water. As the rice is not hollow and dry when put in boiling water, the cooking time is minimized; this will help keep your rice grains long and separate. Put the saffron in a small bowl. Heat the milk until lukewarm: my mother would describe it as blood temperature…
if you touch the milk, it should only be slightly warm. If you are using a microwave to heat the milk, be sure to stir the milk before checking the temperature as there may be hot spots.

Pour the lukewarm milk over the saffron and leave to infuse. Heat the ghee or oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté the onions until caramelized. Using a slotted spoon and leaving as much oil in the pan as possible, transfer the onions to a plate, spreading them out on the plate to cool. Remove half of the oil from the pan and set aside. Add the chicken to the remaining oil and cook
over medium-high heat until browned on both sides. Add the garlic, ginger, yogurt, chili powder and 2 teaspoons of salt and cook
over medium-high heat until the garlic and ginger have lost their raw smell and the yogurt has reduced. Add half of the caramelized onions,
then add lukewarm water to cover the chicken, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. You don’t want chicken
be tender: it must still be firm, because it will still be cooked with the rice. Drain the soaked rice. Boil a kettle and pour the water into a large saucepan. Bring back to a boil, add another 6 teaspoons of salt, then add the drained rice and boil until the rice is three-quarters cooked (shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes). To test, remove a grain from boiling water and squeeze it. There should be a hard core to the grain of rice. When the rice reaches this stage, drain it and spread it out on a tray to prevent it from continuing to cook.

To assemble the biryani, you will need a heavy base pot with an airtight lid. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from its cooking
liquid and place it in the pan. Strain the cooking liquid and pour over the chicken. Try to squeeze out as much of the onion/ginger/garlic residue as possible, so the broth is nice and thick. It should just about cover the chicken pieces. Then add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, mace and nutmeg.

Add half of the saffron milk and the sugar and squeezed lemon juice. Then add the rice, making sure it covers the chicken. Over the rice, add the remaining caramelized onions, remaining saffron milk and reserved oil.

Put the pot of biryani on high heat and wait for the steam to start coming out. Allow steam to pass for 1 minute. Meanwhile, roll the dough into tubes and use the dough to seal the lid of the biryani jar. Place the pan on a cast iron skillet or tawa
over medium-high heat: this is to diffuse the heat. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, put the biryani in a preheated 375°F (190°C) oven for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, turn the oven to 300°F (150°C) and let stand for 20 minutes. If using a stovetop tawa, reduce the heat to low, cover the top of the pan with a folded clean kitchen towel and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

When ready to serve, loosen the lid of the biryani. Using a large spoon and starting from one side, gently lift the chicken and mix with the rice.
You need to gently merge the wet rice with the dry rice on top, so that each grain is perfectly moist.

Ammu is available on Amazon