Weekend Cook: Butter Chicken Biryani

There are a couple of traditions from lockdown life that I hope stick around. Sure there are some rituals that I can’t wait to be rid of – walks being a choice of two routes, supermarket runs requiring SAS levels of forward-thinking and preparation – but there are definitely some things that I have grown to relish. Slower weekends for one, more frequent check-ins ‘just because’ with loved ones for another. My favourite new tradition, however, has got to be one that B and I almost inadvertently started doing: attempting something new and adventurous, culinary-wise, every weekend. From making our own pasta to extravagant roasts and homemade foccacia, I really look forward to our cooking sessions every week. Armed with a glass of wine, a good playlist and a new recipe at our fingertips, I find those couple of hours are where we finally turn off and reconnect – indeed, I’d say our best conversations over the past couple months have happened almost exclusively either when we’re making the food or stuffing our gobs with it.

A couple weeks ago I was idly browsing the internet for an easy curry recipe for that Friday night (B had a game night, I wanted to maximise SITC time) when I stumbled across a recommendation for Chetna Makan’s Butter Chicken Biryani in the comments section over on BBC Good Food (man I love that site). Intrigued, I gave it a google and spent a very happy 15-minutes salivating over Chetna’s video walkthrough — I knew immediately we had to give it a go that weekend. And so we did. And it was incredible.

It’s a bit of a faff in that there’s a lot of steps to follow (there’s a reason we save it for the weekend), but no single step is too complicated and honestly most of the ingredients are pretty standard cupboard fillers. This was our first attempt making a biryani but we’ve long admired Dishoom’s version and I gotta admit this came pretty darn close in my books. Moist, flavourful and extremely impressive, this would be a fab one for any dinner parties or gatherings – you can even prepare in advance and just wait for the ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’s when you take that first scoop of this multi-layer delight. Plus it keeps pretty well for leftovers too.

I’ve linked the blog post and YouTube video here which have all the information you need, but also for ease I’ve written it out below. Nothing has been changed and full credit goes to Chetna for this one.

Butter Chicken Biryani

  • Serves 4-6
  • 2-3 hours, plus marinading


For the marinade
  • 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
  • 4 tbsp natural yogurt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp sunflower oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 inch ginger, grated
For the rice
  • 500 gms basmati rice
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 5 cloves
For the curry
  • 1 tbsp salted butter
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 5 tomatoes, pureed
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 inch ginger, grated
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
  • 3/4 tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp double cream
  • 1 tbsp salted butter
For the garnish
  • 5 onions, thinly sliced
  • pinch of saffron in 1 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp chewer water or rose water


  1. Cut the boneless, skinless chicken thighs into bite size pieces. Place in a tray.
  1. Mix 4 tbsp natural yog, add 1 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp chilli powder (to your taste) and 1 tsp oil. Add 2 grated garlic cloves and a piece of grated ginger.
  1. Add marinade to chicken and rub to cover. Leave to marinade in the fridge for 30 mins-1 hour. Meanwhile, prepare the rice and sauce. 
  1. 500g basmati rice – rinse well. Bring water to boil and add 4-5 cardamom pods, 1 stick cinnamon, 1 bay leaf, 4-5 cloves. Add rice and cook until half cooked (soft but not fully cooked). Drain.
  1. Heat 1 tbsp butter, 1 tbsp oil in a pan. Add cinnamon and cardamon and add in 1 medium, finely chopped onion. Cook 10 mins over medium heat until lightly golden.
  1. Roughly chop 4-5 tomatoes and puree and grate 2 garlic cloves and a piece of ginger.
  1. Once onions are golden, add the grated ginger and garlic. Cook for 1 minute. 
  1. Add the pureed tomatoes, along with 2 tbsp ready tomato puree (more flavour and colour). Cover and cook for at least 20 minutes.
  1. Add 1 tsp chilli powder, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp garam masala, 1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves and 3-4 tsp honey. Mix. Turn heat off so it doesn’t continue cooking.
  1. Heat oven to 200C/180 fan. Put marinated chicken in for 15 minutes. 
  1. Add cooked chicken straight from the oven into the sauce. 
  1. Add 1 tbsp cream and 1 tbsp butter. Mix in and you’re ready to layer!
  1. Chop 5 smallish onions into fine slices. Take the pan you’re going to use for layering the biryani and pour enough oil to cover the onions so that they fry. Fry until golden, and drain to remove excess oil. 
  1. To layer the biryani – sprinkle a fine layer of semi-cooked rice at the bottom, followed by half the curry. Then add half the rice. Fried onions. Rest of curry. Remaining rice. Fried onions. 
  1. Add a few drinks of a pinch of saffron in warm milk (soaked for 5 minutes). Add a few drops all over. Few drops of rose water all over.
  1. Put lid on pan and put in oven (180C/160C fan) and cook for 35-40 minutes. 
  1. Leave to rest for 10 minutes before taking the lid off and serving! 
  1. Serve with salad, bread whatever you want. 

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