Chicken Biryani with Fried Onions

Wow your family with homemade chicken biryani: layers of spiced yogurt-marinated chicken, tender vegetables, fried onions, and fragrant basmati rice.
6–8 servings
1 Hr
Active Time
1 Hr

You won’t find a lot of places in Manila that serve chicken biryani. But for Cody, who was raised in Kuwait, the dish is as ubiquitous as chicken adobo. This recipe captures the rich flavors and textures of the biryani he grew up eating: chicken marinated in yogurt and spices, layered with crispy fried onions and fragrant basmati rice.

What is biryani?

Biryani is a South Asian mixed dish of fragrant rice layered with spices, vegetables, and meat like chicken, beef, or lamb. The rice and meat are cooked separately, then layered in a pot with spices and vegetables. Steaming marries the flavors from the rice and meat, melding them into an irresistible chicken-rice dish.

What do I need to make biryani?

To make a flavor-packed chicken biryani, this recipe calls for the following spices:

  • garam masala
  • ground turmeric
  • whole cloves
  • green cardamom
  • black cardamom
  • bay leaves
  • cinnamon stick

Supermarkets will carry ground turmeric, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks. The rest need a trip to or delivery from an Indian grocery. Check out Assad Mini Mart: they have branches across Manila, Quezon City, Pasig, and Makati. Get some good quality basmati rice while you’re there.

Fried onions are the best part of chicken biryani

While you can technically make biryani without fried onions, Cody insists that they're non-negotiable—fried onions (and the oil you fry them in) are key to the full biryani experience. Plus, if you have extra, you can use it as a garnish over everything.

Fried Onions

  • 8 red onions, thinly sliced


  • ½ cup plain full-fat yogurt
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp garam masala powder
  • 3 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp chili powder, optional
  • Fried Onions, optional
  • 4 skinless chicken thighs
  • 4 skinless chicken drumsticks
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 3 green cardamom pods
  • 3 black cardamom pods
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 tomatoes, diced
  • 3 boiled potatoes, peeled and halved

Basmati Rice

  • 4 cups basmati rice
  • 5 cloves
  • 3 green cardamom pods
  • 3 black cardamom pods
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp salt

For Serving

  • Fried Onions
  • fresh mint leaves

Make fried onions: Add red onions to a cold pan. Add oil until onions are just covered. Heat pan to medium-low. The onions will gently fry and slowly turn brown. Use a spider strainer to agitate the onions, making sure they’re all evenly cooked. Remove fried onions once well browned. Do not burn! Transfer onions to a paper towel-lined plate in a single layer. Avoid stacking them, as this will prevent the onions from crisping up properly. Reserve onion frying oil.


Marinate chicken: Combine yogurt, ginger, garlic, garam masala, salt, and turmeric in a large bowl. Add fried onions and chili powder, if using. Mix well. Add chicken thighs and drumsticks. Toss to coat each piece well. Cover and marinate for 1 hour up to overnight.


Soak rice: In a large bowl, wash basmati rice vigorously until water runs clear. Soak in water for 20–30 minutes. This helps expand the rice grains to their full length.


Cook spices and chicken: Heat ¼ cup onion oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add cloves, green cardamom, black cardamom, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick. Fry until spices become fragrant and start to sizzle, 1 minute.  Add chicken, marinade, and diced tomatoes. Cook until chicken is pale, about 5 minutes. Cover pan, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until chicken is tender, about 20–25 minutes. Add boiled potatoes and let them absorb some flavor. Remove from heat and set aside.


Par-cook rice: While your chicken is cooking, prepare a pot of water to cook the rice. Add cloves, green cardamom, black cardamom, bay leaves, cinnamon, and salt to the water. Bring pot to a boil over medium-high heat. Drain your soaked basmati rice, then add it to the boiling water. Par-cook rice until about 70% cooked; if you check the pot, the rice grains should have expanded and puffed up. This can take anywhere between 4–8 minutes. Drain rice in a colander or mesh strainer, discarding spices.


Layer biryani: Remove chicken from the pot. Increase heat to medium. Add about ⅓ of basmati rice to the bottom of the pot in an even layer. Return half of the chicken over the rice. Sprinkle with fried onions. Repeat layering (rice, chicken, onions) until all of the rice and chicken are in the pot. Cover and steam over medium heat, 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let rest, still covered, for 10 minutes.


Finish and serve: Remove cover. This is the best part: taking in the aroma! If rice is undercooked, drizzle ¼ cup water over the rice, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir the rice and chicken together to distribute, making sure to dig all the way down and scoop from the bottom. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer biryani to a large serving platter. Top with remaining fried onions and mint leaves. Serve hot.

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