recipe: Instant Pot Lamb Dum Biriyani
difficulty: medium – lots of spices/ingredients, a fair amount of prep if you’re not used to making Indian food on the daily
health rating: indulgent. If you do this right with fatty lamb, whole milk yogurt and white basmati rice, you hit a cheat meal 4 sho
time: Instant Pot time 6 minutes + natural pressure release. 30 minimum minute marinade time. 1 hour prep.
Much to my chagrin, the wifey scored an Instant Pot during Prime Day last year and I could not be happier to be wrong about getting a new kitchen gadget. The Instant Pot is a fabulous excuse to try time consuming, slow cooked recipes within the context of modern life, i.e. cooking meals on the fly. Since getting an Instant Pot I stopped buying carnitas by the pound at the local Carnicería and ordering Indian takeout. Now it takes a few solid recipes + trial and error for me to full on quit takeout on genres like Indian and Mexican but they are out there.
Last Christmas we received a copy of Dr. Urvashi Pitre’s Indian Instant Pot Cookbook. The author is in fact the very same woman behind Two Sleevers, a blog dedicated to the mastery of Indian Cookery through the convenience of the Instant Pot. Pressure Cookers have long been a part of Indian cooking in the modern era and the Instant Pot is a pressure cooker for the masses. Like a Green Egg or a cast iron skillet, well loved cooking equipment come with their legions of fans and plenty of documentation on what to do and exactly how to do it.
I grew up with Indian(Bengali cooking) but my mom wasn’t no Urvashi Pitre, a trained scientist who also learned how to cook authentic Indian food by her mom, in the motherland. The results in this book include plenty of “a-ha” light bulb over the head moments like a recipe for a perfect Garam Masala and cooking chicken breasts whole and then cutting them up in a finished curry sauce to keep the meat juicy and tender. The Butter Chicken recipe in this book made her famous and single handedly ceased my desire to call my local Indian delivery restaurant for any creamy chicken curry. I’ve also had great time consuming success with her dal(lentil curry) recipes as well. But the real mountain for me to climb: making my own biriyani.
Biriyani is a magnificent dish, worthy of special occasions like weddings and religious holidays. Growing up, only the Bengali Aunties who were the best cooks would dare cook this dish for guests. It is like saying “I can smoke a brisket” in the heart of Central Texas, the room for error is nil. My preference is for lamb or goat, tender, rich and fatty meats surround by aromatic rice. Some get chicken, I feel sorry for them. Now before I go straight into this recipe I need to get this out there: this is a work in progress. The flavor was there but the texture needs improvement. More on that once we get down to the finished dish.
Oh and one more thing . . . don’t skimp here, shortcuts will serve up only disappointment. Don’t say I didn’t tell you . . .
Cooking great Indian food is time consuming and while the idea of Instant Pot Biriyani taking away all that work sounds tempting, that just ain’t the case. The first crucial step is making Urvashi’s Garam Masala:
In a spice grinder, combine all ingredients and grind until a medium fine powder forms. I usually just crank away till it’s all dust. Keep it in an airtight mason jar. This stuff is gonna be gold in your spice cabinet.
The next few steps are pretty simple. You will combine all the spices, half the salt, the yogurt, onion, cilantro, ginger and garlic in a bowl. Then add the cubed lamb and marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Now I used leg of lamb and the original recipe said to trim off the fat. I think that was a mistake. The fat renders well and though the recipe mentions using Lamb Shoulder, I think using shoulder is a must. The shoulder muscle has more collagen which makes it better suited to this type of cooking as the connective tissue becomes tender and the meat stays moist. The leg dries out in comparison.
The key to a Dum Biriyani and its main difference between regular biriyani is that the rice and meat cook together. In the Instant Pot, you layer the marinated lamb at the bottom first. Then you add the rice and then the water(I used Chicken stock). After that you set the Instant Pot to pressure cook on high for 6 minutes and then wait for a natural release. Yup, that’s it.
Now while this is happening, you will want to take an onion, slice it thin and fry it slowly in oil over a medium low heat till it is golden brown. I’ve done the same thing for Chicken Sag and let me tell you this adds so much flavor, I deem it a pro Indian cooking move. A little bit of effort goes a long way in flavor here. Don’t skip this step. Like making the Garam Masala, once you do this, you will always do it.
So that will take you to the promised land: Instant Pot Biriyani whenever you want. Now, I did say this recipe is a work in progress. Flavor wise it was there but I could have upped the salt, and since it is lamb and it is rich, I would consider not deseeding the serrano pepper. That being said, my kid found it spicy(but he did eat his whole plate).
The biggest issue I had was texture. I found the lamb to be a touch dry which can be easily resolved by substituting with lamb shoulder. I would also be mindful about trimming fat as well.
Then there is the rice. I cannot mince words here: the rice was mushy and mushy rice in biriyani is unacceptable, no matter how good the flavor is. I have a few theories. One is that I needed to use a premium basmati rice. I grabbed what I had in the pantry and I don’t keep top shelf rice around, let alone top shelf basmati rice. Since this is a rice dish, this is an area that needs paramount attention. The other is that I could use a little less water as the marinade for lamb introduces water via the yogurt, the onion and the herbs, albeit minimal. My first move is to go out and by the best basmati rice I can, from like Whole Foods, and maybe reduce the water/stock to 3/4 of a cup.
All in all, I am not deterred from trying again and if you are looking to cross off a reason for getting Indian takeout, you absolutely should try this recipe.