Chemmeen Biryani (Shrimp Biryani)

by - March 02, 2012

New photo added on January 24, 2015

This post has taken forever. Literally. Everytime I make this biryani (and honestly this is the ONLY biryani I pretty much make), I would tell myself I would post this recipe on my blog. But then I would get lazy. Lazy about taking step by step photos and typing a LONG recipe. In the past month or so, few of my friends asked me for the recipe. I would keep telling them I will email them the recipe soon. 'Soon' never came, until today. Sorry for keeping you waiting. I hope this detailed recipe with photos are worth the wait for you.

By the way, this is my mother in law's recipe which I tweaked here and there.  

Serving: Feeds about 4-5 very hungry adults or maybe more
Cooking Time: about 3 hours in total
Cleanup Time: Don’t ask! ;)

Step#1 – Getting the shrimps ready
1.5kg shrimps: head and devein them – when you purchase 1.5kg of shrimps, by the time you head, peel and devein them, they weigh about 750gms. This would help you make biryani with about 500gms of basmati rice.
Chilli powder – 1 tbsp
Turmeric powder – a pinch
Juice of 1 lemon
Oil – about a cup

After cleaning and patting dry, marinate the shrimps in rest of the ingredients except oil and leave for about twenty to thirty minutes.
Shallow fry shrimps in batches. Do NOT fry them all together. Shrimps release fluid and if you fry them all together, it becomes a liquidy mess instead of crispy shrimps.

Step #2 – Fry onions and nuts for masala as well as garnishing
Four medium sized onions – sliced in semi circles
Cashew nuts, halved – ½ cup
Raisins – ¼ cup or less (My husband and I feel that raisins add sweetness to biryani, which we are not a fan of. So I leave them out most of the time).
Oil – about a cup

Fry onions until brown and crisp. Use a slotted spoon to drain them.  
Once all onion slices are fried, fry the nuts and raisins respectively and keep them aside.
Do NOT move away from the stove during the whole process.

Step #3 – Make the biryani masala
Six medium sized onions – finely chopped. Easier to use a food processor
4 tbsp ginger garlic paste – you could simply grind fresh ginger and garlic together
ONE tomato – ground to paste - do NOT get smart and use more… I did once, it was a disaster!
Four to six green chillies – finely chopped (you could use less if you don’t like heat)
Half a bunch of coriander leaves – finely chopped
Ground Almond – 2 tbsp
Yoghurt – ½ cup – make sure to whisk it a bit with a fork
Coconut milk – ½ cup – has to be thick
Juice of 1 lemon
Ground Garam Masala – 1 tbsp
Oil – 2 to 3tbsp

In a sauce pan, add oil and sauté chopped onions for about three minutes. Add a pinch of salt to quicken up the process of sautéing. Once the onions are golden, add ginger-garlic paste, chopped chillies and continue sautéing. I tend to process onions, ginger, garlic and green chillies all together and sauté them all together. :D
Add a good pinch of garam masala. After few minutes of sautéing, add ground tomato, chopped coriander and continue to stir. Make sure that you are stirring frequently to stop it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Once the mixture becomes sort of a pasty lump, add yoghurt – bit by bit. Stir. Add juice of lemon. Stir. Add coconut milk and stir a bit. When you are adding coconut milk, remember to bring down the heat. Taste and check whether the masala needs more salt or lemon juice. Add whatever is required.
Add ground almond. Ground almond was used as a thickening agent in the olden days and can literally suck out all the liquid in a gravy. So it is better to add a bit of ground almond and see whether the masala thickens up more than required. If not, add the rest.
Let the masala cook a bit – for a couple of minutes. Add a tablespoonful of onion/cashewnuts/raisins mixture from Step #2. Stir. Add fried shrimps. Stir. Cover the pan with it’s lid and let it cook for about five minutes. Make sure you keep checking incase it sticks to the bottom.

Your biryani masala is done. :) Now onto cooking the basmati.

Step #4 – Cook Basmati Rice
Like I said before, since we are getting 750gms of shrimps, we would need 500gms of basmati rice. Some like more masala in their biryani, some don't. So you can change this ratio according to your preference. 
When cooking basmati, it is best to follow the instructions given behind the packet. I’ve used several brands and India Gate is the only one that works for me. Please use whatever you are comfortable with.
Most of the brands would give you a 1:2 ratio for water – i.e. if you are cooking 1 cup of rice, you would need 2 cups of water. If you are making pilao, neychor etc this ratio works fine. However, if you are making biryani, I would suggest you use a bit less water. You could use 1¾cups of water instead of 2cups. Once the rice is cooked, it is going to be layered with the masala and cooked again. By reducing the amount of water used, you can make sure that you get non-sticky rice instead of overcooked stodgy biryani. :)

I use the glass tumbler shown in the picture below to measure rice. So I used 2 glasses of rice: about 500grams.
3.5 glasses of water
2 Knorr chicken stock cubes. You can use chicken/veg of any other brand, doesn’t really matter.
Whole garam masala: three 1” cinnamon sticks, few cardamom pods lightly crushed, few cloves
1 tbsp of butter
2 tbsp of oil

Wash and soak the rice in cold water for 20-30 minutes.
Boil water and add stock cubes. Keep it aside.
(If you are not using stock cubes – boil water and add a good pinch of salt. Keep it aside.)
In a deep bottom pan, add butter. When it starts melting add oil quickly.
Once the oil is hot enough, add whole garam masala and sauté quickly. Add rice before the spices darken. Saute with a fork so that rice grains don’t break.
When rice grains are glossy, add the stock/water.
It get’s a bit tricky from here. I’ve seen people stir the rice like crazy after adding water. I used to do it myself. But the trick to getting non-sticky basmati is to leave it ALONE. Yes, I mean it. Do not touch it after you add water. Let the water/stock boil and reach the same level as rice. Once it does, lower the heat to minimum and close the pan with it’s lid. Let it cook for TEN minutes. Please time it.
After ten minutes, switch off the heat. Open the lid and cover the pan with a kitchen towel (tea towel), put the lid back on and leave for 5 minutes.
After five minutes, open the lid again and fluff up the rice using 'forks'. Do not use spoon as this breaks the rice. 

Result – non-sticky basmati rice like we get in restaurants. :) The above method of cooking basmati is a combination of tricks I learnt from my mother-in-law and Nigella. :))

Step #5 – Layering Biryani and putting it for dum
Garam masala – loads
Fried onions + nuts + raisins from Step 2
A VERY deep bottomed sauce pan.
Aluminium foil
Some butter

Rub butter inside the sauce pan. This is really not necessary. But since I use stainless steel sauce pans all the time, rubbing butter avoids masala sticking to the bottom or sides. This let’s me breathe in peace. ;)
Add some of the shrimp masala on the bottom of the pan. About 3 inches?
Layer it up with about 4 inches of rice - I’am giving a vague measurement here. You can do whatever you feel is best.
Sprinkle fried onions + nuts + raisins from Step 2.
Sprinkle generous pinch of garam masala.
Add shrimp masala… rice… onions+nuts… Continue to do so until you do not have any more rice/masala left. You would get about three layers depending on the size of your sauce pan.
Cover the sauce pan and with aluminium foil and put on the lid. Now it’s time to put for ‘dum’.
Dum basically means the biryani is cooked by baking the rice with the meat and spices in a large pot. This is how all type of biryanis are cooked. So if you go looking for 'dum chicken biryani', you are basically looking for a normal chicken biryani. ;)

In India, we usually put chunks of burning charcoal on top of the lid and leave it. Out here this isn’t possible (unless you have an outdoorsy kitchen). So what you can do is preheat your oven and leave the biryani inside at about 180C for 20-30 minutes. Or if you do not have a big oven (like me), you could heat up a frying pan on the stove and leave the briyani on top of it. You have to keep the heat level at the minimum possible. Leave it for about 20-30 minutes.

You could keep the biryani pot directly on heat. I use the frying pan as a buffer so that my biryani doesn't get burnt. Clever ha? :D

Step #6
Open up the lid, remove the aluminium foil DIG IN!! You can enjoy briyani with some raita, pickle, coconut chutney and pappadum. For me raita and pickle are more than enough. ;)

New photo added on January 24, 2015

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  1. Such a lovely biriyani recipe with every little detail.Thanks for sharing.

  2. WOW looks so yummy and Thank You so much for sharing!


  3. hmmm..I'm salivating....pls pls post chicken Biryani recipe ....

    Kudos....Divz poul

  4. gorgeous luking biriyani......thanks 4 sharing the tip too

  5. never thought of making biryani with prawns but it looks amazing and I'm definitely going to try it out!

  6. With a biiiiiiiig tight hug and a gentle kiss..well, with a light massage for ur wonderful hands..: )shall gracefullyy thank you for all the hard work..done letting ur wonderful biriyani..touching my stove top here..!!! : )

    Thank you..neelu..thank you so much..wish what u want right now..I shall say yes in a blink of a second ; )
    Job well done..dear!

  7. Great recipe neelu! I tried it out today n it was really really tasty :) Loved it. Thanks 4 sharing :)

  8. The shrimps look delicious, thanks for the step-by-step tutorial!

  9. omg omg omg!! Am a veggie.. yet this seems so tempting to me! :P Am sorry for being so shameless.. but can I come over for lunch sometime at ur place??

  10. Thats me..- Shruti from Krafty Artist! :P

  11. Neelu!! I am trying this recipe out today adding mini potatoes instead of shrimps!! Will let you know how it turns out!! *winks*

    - Shruti

  12. And am no kidding!! It turned out FAB!! I just cant wait to make it for my husband.. omg!! Am sure he'll love it.. and yes.. momma did the whole coal thingy for me when I put it for dum!! and trust me.. it tasted just like the dum biryani you get to buy at Hyderabadi restaurants!! :D :D yayy! Am so glad I found and awesome Biriyani recipe.. All thanks to you and ur MIL!!! :) I am gonna try it next with marinated paneer.. lol

    And hey.. you can actually do the whole coal thingy even there.. What mom did was when we kept it for 'dum'.. She placed the hot coal in a small steel bowl creating a cavity in the center and poured few drops of 'ghee' on it and immediately shut it with an aluminum foil in between.. just like you did!!

    You are an expert.. and maybe you do know about it.. for a novice like me.. I was amazed with the whole idea of having a chunk of coal in the midst of cooked rice! :P

    - Shruti

  13. This is so tempting. But it sure is a lot of work :) maybe I should do the preparation the night before and try it out..

    1. Yup, it looks like a lot of work at first. But once you get a hang of making Biryanis it's one of the easiest things to make. When I make Biryanis for parties, I usually make the masala a day or two earlier. So on the day of the party, I just have to make the rice and dum it with masala. :)


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