TURKEY BIRYANI

November 28, 2015

My most prized kitchen possession is not actually mine; it’s Jill’s.


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The item in question is a Dutch oven that originally belonged to Jill’s maternal grandmother: black as soot, heavy as hell, with an interior seasoned smooth through decades of use. It’s no painted enamel looker, but as far as cooking utility goes, I’d put it up next to a $300 Le Creuset any day.

I made my first batch of gumbo in it; I was so nervous that I’d screw up my first real roux, but the comfort of knowing that the pan had much more experience in the matter than I did allowed me to keep my cool and take that roux right into the deep chocolate territory where it belonged. Just this morning, I baked bread in the same Dutch oven I used last night to make the biryani pictured here. Perhaps I am not exactly who Jill’s grandmother might have imagined would be using her heirloom pot, but I like to think that I could win her over with my ability to coax good food out of it to sustain, nourish, and delight my family—just as she did.

On a related note—if you are from the American South and care at all about food, please read this thoughtful, well-researched piece from The Bitter Southerner: The Seven Essential Southern Dishes. I read it aloud to Jill on our way down to our friends’ farm for a pre-Thanksgiving gathering; we delighted in the author’s spot-on descriptions, learned things we didn’t know about the food we love, and took issue with some of her choices—which she encourages folks to do. It’s worth a read, or an accented read-aloud. If you’ve still got relatives hanging around, I imagine it will provoke some lively debate and the telling of good stories.

TURKEY BIRYANI
Source: Anita Jaisinghani via The Houston Chronicle

I first clipped this recipe from the newspaper (so old school!) in 2010; the chef behind it is the proprietress and chef behind two of Houston’s best restaurants, Indika & Pondicheri, and I have long been an admirer of her talents.
Since then, this biryani has become a post-Thanksgiving tradition—we love it because it both uses up leftover turkey and creates a whole separate set of flavors from the ones typically associated with Thanksgiving. Plus, it’s a repurposing that doesn’t create another highly-caloric meal, but is still wonderfully delicious and can easily feed a crowd if you’ve still got houseguests or family in town.

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Notes:

*The original recipe calls for you to cook 1 cup of black beans to use in the recipe; I cheat and substitute canned beans.

*Please, please do not substitute another kind of rice for the Basmati; it is essential for the biryani to have the proper taste and texture. If possible, find imported Basmati rice from an Indian grocer—it should be extremely long-grained and fragrant. It makes all the difference.

*My mom, who is a fountain of culinary knowledge that I fear I will never fully manage to tap into, insisted that I add whole black cardamom pods (sometimes called false cardamom—larger than the green cardamom that you’re probably accustomed to seeing) and dried mace flowers (which, I learned, come from the nutmeg tree) to the biryani for authenticity’s sake. You will likely not have these things on hand—I didn’t—but should you, or should you wish to acquire them, wrap them in cheesecloth (to make them easier to fish out) and toss them into the rice as it cooks.

For the rice:

2 cups basmati rice
3 cups water
Small pinch saffron, soaked in a bit of warm water
2 tsp salt
2 T butter
2-3 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks

Rinse the basmati rice in cold water 3 times, or until the rinsing water is no longer cloudy. Soak the rinsed rise in warm water for an hour; drain.

Bring the rice, 3 cups of water, saffron, salt, butter, and spices to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover the pan. Cook the rice for another 8-10 minutes, or until all of the water is gone. Take the rice off of the heat; fluff gently with a fork and set aside.

For the turkey masala:

2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
2 T butter
4 cups turkey meat, chopped or pulled (original recipe calls for leg meat; I used both dark & white)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 T ginger, grated fine
½ cup plain yogurt
1 T chili powder (I used chipotle chili powder—you can use whatever blend you have on hand)
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
1 T garam masala
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

Optional but highly recommended garnishes:

a handful each: toasted, chopped cashews, pomegranate seeds, chopped cilantro

turkey biryani | Blue Jean Gourmet

Preheat oven to low—for me, that’s 170°.

In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the onions over high heat until they start to sweat. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally until they are a dark golden brown. Add the turkey, garlic, and ginger, and cook on high for a few minutes.

Fold in the yogurt, chili powder, turmeric, and salt. Cover and cook on low heat for 8-10 minutes. Remove the Dutch oven from the heat, then stir in the garam masala. Add the black beans in an even layer, then spread the warm rice on top and cover with the lid.

Keep warm in a low oven for at least 15 and up to 30 minutes. Before serving, mix the biryani together very gently with a spatula, then top with garnishes.

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