The Perfect Lamb Biryani

An authentic family recipe for lamb biryani from Made in India by Meera Sodha. Traditionally served for special occasions, this comforting baked dish mixes a rich lamb curry with delicate basmati rice.

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Biryani is the maharajah (king) of dishes and is believed to have been invented in the kitchens of the Mughal emperors. It’s a layered dish combining a rich and tender clove and cinnamon lamb curry, sweet caramelized onions and saffron-scented rice. Traditionally the biryani pot is covered with a bit of dough and baked in the oven until cooked. Few experiences match the joy of cracking through the top of a freshly cooked biryani at the table and inhaling the beautiful steam which billows out. That said, you could easily use a good oven pot with a tight-fitting lid instead.

This dish is very much suited to sharing at home with family and friends, and although there
may seem a lot to do, it’s really no more complicated than making a lasagne.

Serves 8 to 10


For the lamb curry:
2 star anise
2 tbsp coriander seeds
10 cloves, or 1/2 tsp ground cloves
50 black peppercorns
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
4cm cinnamon stick
4 large onions
5cm ginger, peeled
8 cloves of garlic
rapeseed oil
1kg lamb shoulder, chopped into 3cm cubes
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder
3 tbsp whole-milk yoghurt
3 tbsp tomato puree
For the rice;
500g basmati rice
1 tsp rose water
1 large pinch of saffron, soaked in 2 tbsp hot water
For the dough:
100g chapatti flour
50ml hot water
1 tsp rapeseed oil

Essential kit

You will need a spice grinder, food processor or pestle and mortar.


There’s a fair bit of preparation involved in this dish, but if you tackle it upfront, you will have few
complaints later. First prepare all your spices. Put the star anise, coriander, cloves, peppercorns,
cumin, cardamom, fennel and cinnamon stick into a spice grinder, food processor or pestle and
mortar to grind them, and then set the spice mix to one side.

Rinse your basmati rice in at least three changes of water to wash out the starch and leave to soak
in a bowl of cold water on one side until later. Next, chop your onions in half, peel them and then
slice into fine rings. Pop the ginger and garlic into a food processor, or finely grate the ginger and
crush the garlic.

Put a tablespoon of oil into a large, heavy-bottomed, lidded frying pan on a high heat. When you are
sure that the pan is very hot, sear the lamb in batches (so that you don’t crowd the pan), turning
them until they are golden brown. Take the meat out with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to the same pan and fry the onions for 8 to 10 minutes, until they
are soft and golden. Take out half of the onions, transfer them to a bowl and set to one side. Then
put the garlic and ginger into the pan. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes and add the spices that you
have ground, together with the turmeric and chilli powder. Keep stirring to ensure these don’t burn
on the bottom of the pan.

After a minute or so, add the lamb, yoghurt and tomato purée, stir well to ensure it is all mixed
together, and add 400ml of warm water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to low, pop the
lid on and leave to simmer for around 1½ hours, or until done.

Meanwhile, you’ll need to cook the rice and prepare the fried onions for layering. Drain the rice and
transfer to a saucepan. Pour enough cold water over the rice so that it is covered by 2–5cm, and
bring to the boil. Boil for 8 to 10 minutes, until it’s just tender. Drain and set aside.

Transfer the onions from the bowl to a small frying pan and continue to fry for another 10 minutes,
or until the onions are caramelized, then take off the heat. Check on the lamb: as soon as it is
falling apart, season with salt to taste and take off the heat. If you’d like to seal your biryani lid with
dough, knead together the flour, hot water and oil to make a nice soft dough. Alternatively you could
seal the pot with a tight lid or foil.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.

Take an ovenproof pot which will snugly accommodate the rice and lamb, such as a casserole dish.
Remove half of the meat from the lamb curry using a slotted spoon (to leave the sauce behind)
and place it at the bottom of the pot. Top the meat with half of the rice and half of the onions and
repeat with the rest of the meat, rice and onions. Keep the sauce of the curry aside to serve with
the biryani.

Sprinkle the rice with the rose water and the saffron. Roll out the dough so that it is big enough to
cover the pot, then place it on the pot and seal by pressing down on the rim all the way around (or
put the lid on). Put the pot in the oven for 20 minutes.

Crack open the biryani at the table and serve with the lamb curry sauce on the side, along with
some golden garlic raita (see page 178) and, if you like, some pomegranate seeds and coriander

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