While there are over a hundred variations of biryani, prawn biryani may be my favorite. The prawn masala is light but satisfying, infusing the basmati rice with a bright color and flavor and lending the dish with an impressive versatility that makes it easy to pair with a multitude of dishes or had on its own.
- Bring a large pot of water (about 4 quart) to a rolling boil. Bring to a simmer and add green and black cardamom, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and salt to taste.
- Add rice and cook it on low heat for not more than 5-7 minutes. Once the rice is half-cooked, immediately drain it into a colander.
- Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot. Once it begins to shimmer, brown onions on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes till they color evenly (medium to deep brown).
- Add crushed ginger and garlic and stir for roughly 30 seconds-1 minute on low heat. Make sure they don't burn.
- Add cumin powder, coriander powder, red chile flakes and turmeric powder. Do a taste test and if you want to add more salt, do it now. Stir for roughly a minute or two till the spices stop smelling raw. Deglaze the pan with a splash of water if needed.
- Increase heat and add chopped tomatoes. Stir continuously till the tomatoes become soft and break down, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add prawn and stir on high heat for about 5-7 minutes till it's fully cooked.
- Add chopped green chile and cilantro. Remove from heat.
- 9. In a separate stockpot, add half of the cooked rice. If you are using saffron, lightly dry-roast the saffron threads in an empty frying pan and then crumble into a little bit of hot milk. Pour half of it on the rice and give a quick stir to spread the color.
- Put the prawns on the bed of rice and cover with a layer of remaining rice. If using, pour the rest of the saffron on top of the rice and stir gently without disturbing the prawn masala.
- To steam the biryani (putting it on "dum"), turn the heat up and then, dial it to the lowest point. Tightly wrap the lid with a cotton cloth and cover for about 10 minutes.
- Once ready, gently mix the prawn and rice (taking special care to not break the rice) and place in large serving platter. Garnish with fresh cilantro and chiles.
Maryam Jillani was TASTE's Cook In Residence, and the founder of Pakistan Eats.