Sri Lankan Chicken Biryani Recipe

Published on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 | Category: Recipes


Whether it’s Arroz con Pollo, Hainanese Chicken Rice, or Oyako Donburi, chicken and rice has always been a classic pairing that has been celebrated in the culinary culture around the world. It makes sense that in early human history, this staple grain should be combined with a domesticated source of protein, but the fact that this mouthwatering combination has endured to this day as a popular favorite stands as a testament to its unassailable deliciousness.

While it’s popularly associated with Indian cuisine, Sri Lankan Chicken Biryani Recipe is a dish that has gained popularity across the South Asian region, reaching as far west as Iraq, and as far east as Indonesia. As far as Sri Lankan food recipes are concerned, chicken biryani comes in its very own unique variation and has also cemented its spot as a household favourite. This vast geographical area has resulted in an amazing variety and variation of biryani, including preparations and ingredients.

Pulao or Pilaf is a similar rice dish that can be found in the same areas. While there’s not much in terms of the difference between Biryani and Pulao, the latter tends to have less meat and veggies relative to the rice, which means that Pulao is usually served as a side rather than an entree. The second big difference is that Biryani is typically layered and steamed, which creates a sumptuous variation in flavour, texture and colour when it’s all mixed together at the end.

Simply put, Chicken Biryani is a delicious savoury and decadently flavourful rice dish that is chock full of spicy marinated chicken, caramelized onions, and flavorful saffron rice. The bottom layer of rice absorbs all the juices of the chicken as it cooks, giving it great texture and rich flavour, while the top layer of rice turns out white and pillowy. Buried within the rice are whole cuts of succulent, juicy chicken that are intensely flavoured from the beautiful array of spices, herbs and aromatics it’s marinated in.

For this chicken biryani recipe, the order of operations is simplified, while retaining the traditional layered approach to assembling it. Let’s take a look at the recipe:

Chicken Biryani

  • Yield: 5 servings
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes


For the chicken:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 10 grams garlic, grated
  • 10 grams ginger, grated
  • 1 serrano chili peppers, minced
  • 5 grams mint, finely chopped
  • 10 grams cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 900 grams bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

For the rice:

  • 6 cups water
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 pods green cardamom, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 360 grams or 2 cups basmati rice

For the onions:

  • 2 tablespoon ghee
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced

For the Biryani:

  • 1 cup reserved boiling liquid (from rice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • Cilantro (for garnish)


Start off with the marinade for the chicken. Combine the vegetable oil, garlic, ginger, chili peppers, mint, cilantro, garam masala, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl and mix well together. Add the chicken pieces and toss together making sure the chicken is thoroughly coated in the marinade. Allow the chicken to marinate for at least an hour or preferably overnight.

Next, take a pot that is wide enough to hold the chicken in a single layer and add in the ghee and onions and saute the onions until they are well caramelized for about 15-20 minutes. Transfer the caramelized onions to a bowl and set aside. While the onions caramelize, prepare the rice by washing it in a strainer under cold, running water until the water runs clear.

To par-boil the rice, add water, salt, cardamom, cumin and bay leaf to a pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice and let it cook for roughly seven minutes. Drain the rice, reserving a cup of the liquid for later use.

In the same pot that was used to caramelize the onions in, add the chicken in a single layer, skin-side down. Fry until golden brown on one side for about five minutes. Flip the chicken over and fry the other side until golden brown as well. Transfer the chicken back to the bowl you marinated it in.

To assemble the biryani, add the saffron to the rice and mix well to distribute evenly. Add half the rice mixture to the bottom of the pot you browned the chicken in. Next top the rice with the chicken in a single layer. Then, top the chicken with an even layer of caramelized onions.

Finish putting together the Biryani by adding the rest of the rice in an even layer. Add the cup of the reserved liquid from boiling the rice. Cover the pot with a lid and put the pot on the stove over medium heat and cook for 20 minutes. When you can notice steam escaping from under the lid, turn down the heat to low and continue cooking and then turn off the heat. Without opening the lid, let the biryani steam for another 10 minutes in the heat.

After it’s done, mix the Chicken Biryani together carefully and then transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve hot.


Chicken Biryani is best served with cooling raita made with yogurt, mint, cilantro and a pinch of salt, but this is also good with a variety of different chutneys.