Keralan Seafood Biryani

The list of ingredients for this delicious seafood biryani, from ‘Rick Stein’s India’, looks terrifying. Don’t be intimidated, everything required is easily available – if it isn’t already in your pantry – or is easily substituted. Also, there are only four basic processes to consider: make a spice paste; marinade some seafood; boil some rice and, finally, assemble and bake.

It’s the kind of dish you can bring out at a dinner party, or plonk on the table for a family meal, and everyone will think you’re a culinary genius.

It does take a little time, but if you have an hour free it’s no problem at all, and you’ll love it.

biryani

RECIPE serves 4

For the spice paste:

3 dried Kashmiri chillies, whole with seeds (or ordinary dried chillies)

1 star anise

2 tsp fennel seeds

2 tsp poppy seeds

1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns

5cm piece of cinnamon stick

10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

5cm fresh root ginger, finely chopped

2 tbsp creamed coconut , grated from a block

4 tbsp ghee, or coconut oil, or vegetable oil

3 medium onions, finely sliced

a small handful of fresh or frozen curry leaves

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp fine sea salt

3 tomatoes, roughly chopped

For the seafood:

400g large, raw, tail-on king prawns

150g firm white fish (cod, haddock, sea bass, tilapia etc)

75g squid, cut into rings

the zest and juice of a lime

1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder, or 1/2 tsp regular hot chilli powder

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp salt

For the rice:

350g basmati rice, soaked in cold water for an hour

6 green cardamom pods

2 bay leaves

To assemble and serve:

the juice of a lime

25g butter

a small bunch of mint leaves, chopped

a small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped

2 tbsp cashew nuts, dry-toasted


METHOD

First make the spice paste. You can do this well ahead of time if you wish, it makes the rest of the recipe much easier.

Heat a large, NOT non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add the dried chillies, star anise, fennel seeds, poppy seeds, peppercorns and cinnamon stick. Dry toast for a minute or two until aromatic, then tip onto a plate and allow to cool for a minute or so before grinding to a powder. I use an electric coffee grinder to do this, but you can use a mortar and pestle.

Put the garlic, ginger and coconut into a food processor with the ground spice powder and 100ml of water. Process to a smooth paste.

Heat the ghee or oil in a large ovenproof casserole over a medium heat. Add the onions and fry gently for around 15 minutes until well-coloured, golden and just starting to catch here and there. Stir in the curry leaves, garam masala, salt and tomatoes. Cook for a further five minutes or so until the tomatoes have softened then add the spice paste. Fry for around 5 minutes until the sauce has darkened noticeably and the oil beings to separate, at this point the spices have ‘cooked out’ and are at their best. Add another 100ml of water and stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to reintegrate any bits that are stuck.

At this point you can leave it for a few hours, or overnight – re-heating it with a splash of water – or you can carry straight on…

Heat the oven to 160C/ 140C fan/ gas 3.

Cut the fish into rough squares and put into a large dish with the prawns and squid. Zest the lime over everything, then drizzle over the lime juice, than evenly scatter the chilli powder, turmeric and salt. The lime juice will start to ‘cook’ the fish, so don’t do this in advance.

Bring a large pan of lightly-salted water to the boil. Rinse the soaked basmati rice and add to the boiling water with the cardamom and bay. Cook at a stern simmer for between 2 and 6 minutes – the soaking will have softened the rice so it cooks very quickly. The rice should be soft at the edges, with the middle still being firm. Drain the rice – you can leave the cardamom and bay in it – and now start to assemble the dish.

Spoon the hot spice paste out of the casserole and into a bowl and, without cleaning the casserole, spoon half the rice into it. Put the spice paste back in on top of the rice, then put the seafood with all of the juice on top of the spice paste. Do not mix it through, this is a layered dish. Spoon the remainder of the rice over the top of the fish, squeeze over the lime juice, dot with the butter and cover the casserole with foil, followed by the lid.

Bake for 20 minutes, by which time the rice will have completed cooking and the seafood will be perfectly cooked. While it is cooking, put the cashews into a pan and dry-toast over a medium-high heat for a couple of minutes until they are golden.

Scatter over the chopped leaves and cooked cashews, and serve at the table in the casserole. Dig a big serving spoon in to get at all the layers, and serve alongside carrot salad.

Leave a Reply