Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: Biryani is one dish that represents India very well

As July 7, is World Biryani Day we asked famous celebrity chef Harpal Singh Sokhi his views on Biryani. He says, “I think Biriyani is a complete food in itself. It’s a one pot meal with protein, carbs, and the right kind of flavors. Biryani is one dish that represents India very well and is a well sought after dish across the country. Each state or place has its own flavor depending on the way they have adapted themselves to Biryani. So it is, in a way, I think, the perfect dish that represents the Indian culture and country itself.”

Sharing about his favourite Biryani, the Chef says, “I learnt to make Biryani in the Nizam’s kitchen. It is the epitome of perfection. The true Biryani, in my opinion, comes from the Hyderabadi tradition. I’ve had the privilege of learning from a few legends in the Nizam’s kitchen. Begum Mumtaz Khan taught me the art of using spices, and Ustad Habib Pasha, with whom I worked closely, showed me the secrets of making the perfect Biryani. He taught me how to marinate the meat correctly and the specific types of meat to use. He introduced me to two special types of garam masalas: kala masala and elaichi javitri masala. Each has its own unique flavor, and their use is crucial in making an authentic Biryani. The Hyderabadi Biryani stands out because it has just the right amount of spices, providing great flavor without being overpowering, unlike the Awadhi or Calcutta Biryanis.”

When asked about a specific Biryani hack the Chef says, “Few cooking hacks which ustad Habib Pasha taught me is that Biryani is actually mutton Biryani. There is no other Biryani, I don’t think so. You can call a veg Biryani a veg Biryani or a chicken Biryani. Chicken is more like a pulao. It never existed in the early days, the first cooking hack which Habib Pasha taught me was, you need to select the right kind of meat and marinate the meat with dry spices, and you actually have to kind of hammer them by lifting the meat up. After mixing the dry spices, you have to lift the meat up and throw them back in the pot. So that thumping, that keeps happening. For at least 20-25 minutes it breaks up the protein structure of the meat, and it adds up to the cooking time.. And the second thing that Habib Pasha would do is when he would cook the rice, he would add a little bit of milk to it. This would brighten up the basmati rice and add up to the end flavor and consistency of the Biryani. He would also always say, chef,  you need to boil the water with shahi jeera, and add salt to it. And the salt taste of the water should be higher so that the rice absorbs the right kind of salt in it. And then the end product gets the right taste of salt. It is not salty, but it brings in the right taste of salt. And that is the most important. Layering of Biryani should be such that the end product gets you a fluffy rice Biryani.”

So how will the famous ‘Namak Shamak’ Chef celebrate Biryani Day? He says,”I believe, a Biryani is to be relished with family. And I believe the right way is to order from the right source and eat the Biryani with the family. You need a little salan. You need the Burhani Raita with it. And the family around you.”

He also adds, “My wife makes great cucumber raita, which I really relish. When we make Biryani, we also make great prawn Biryani at home. The mutton Biryani and the prawn Biryani are quite famous in our house. And me and my wife, we cook together, and the entire family enjoys it. So that’s the way we enjoy Biryani at home. My favourite memory with Biryani is after our marriage when my wife asked me to cook something for her and I cooked the Hyderabadi mutton Biryani.”

Lifestyle Desk
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Lifestyle Desk

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