It’s been a long that the Mughals closed their kitchen for good. Arabs traders are no more here to fight for their claim for the origin of this dish in India. And yet, the ‘war with Biryani’, on its origin, authenticity or taste is far from over. However, there is no debate about the fact that one dish Indians unanimously love indulging in is the mouth-watering biryani with all its regional flavours and variations! Emeli Munshi talks about one leading contender in the history of Biryani in India: Kolkata Biryani
Back in May 1856, Wajid Ali Shah was dethroned by the British from his capital Lucknow. The 10th Nawab of Oudh came to Kolkata with much disquiet in his heart.
His culinary heritage was his biggest treasure, and he was both “khaane ke aur khilaane ke shaukeen”. The Nawab brought his entire entourage of khansamas and bawarchis along with him from Lucknow to Kolkata (back then known as Calcutta) to ensure that he did not have to compromise on his taste buds.
The Nawab coined the famous “Kolkata Biriyani’ – the magnificent biriyani stands apart from the other variants of Biryani, it is the composition of pearls of rice, succulent meat, an ensemble of spices, a dollop of ghee, tempting strands of saffron and fried potatoes.
Portuguese introduced tuber in India, it was considered a luxury item that only the rich could afford. Though it was quite expensive, but not as much as meat. The Nabawi khansamas decided to experiment by cutting down on meat and adding joyous ingredients like tuber (potatoes) and eggs that helped to maximize the volume. This innovation was locally accepted and since then this variant has become an integral part of Bengal’s gastronomy.
Kolkata Biryani is exceptionally light and soft in colour, the meat is mildly spiced, saffron strands are added to milk and kewra water, the golden-brown fried potatoes, eggs and ghee, and the right amount of spices to enhance the taste. Everything is poured into the handi in layers and set on dum (letting the dish breathe in its own aroma or juices to make it more flavorful) with utmost finesse.
Royal Indian Hotel at Rabindra Sarani, said to have been started in 1905 by Ahmed Hussain, is perhaps the oldest restaurant serving biryani in the city of joy. Unlike other variants, the Kolkata biryani is a complete hearty meal and needs no accompaniment
It is often quoted “Kolkata Biryani is an emotion” the dish has managed to conquer the emotions of Bengalis beyond Bengal too, popularizing Kolkata Biryani all over the world and it is enjoyed by every age group.
Like Football, Biryani and Bengali are inseparable and thus the Kolkata biryani transcends the realms of being just food and transforms into becoming a sentiment, an emotion.
Being a probashi Bengali (Bengali living outside Bengal) and a foodie, my ardent interest in trying to recreate this gastronomic delight at home just like the Nabawi Khansamas, and cooking this luscious dish is no less than sentiment for me, it helps me to relive my childhood days back in Kolkata where no celebration was complete without a plate of steaming ‘Kolkata Biriyani.’
Tips for Kolkata (mutton) biryani:
Marinate the mutton in a paste of yogurt, ginger, garlic, green chilies, onion, spiced with red chili powder, turmeric powder, salt, and our biryani masala. Ideally, marinate the mutton for at least eight hours before making the biryani.
The birista or browned onions can be made in advance. Ensure you do not overcook the birista.
The rice needs to be semi-cooked (about 75% done) with potli or khada masala which adds flavour to each rice grain. Do not overcook or fully cook the rice as it will cook further when you give the dish dum along with the mutton and other ingredients.
Using a heavy-bottomed pan, handi, or degchi for biryani is a must as it prevents the ingredients from sticking to the bottom of the pan during the process of dum. Remember, biryani is cooked slowly for a long duration to allow the aromas to permeate the entire dish and for all the flavours to come together.
Kolkata mutton biryani recipe is topped with boiled eggs as is the tradition,