The Chettinad Biryani Kahani

Don't ask for raita, please!

Jahnabee Borah

The Chettinad biryani is loaded with spices, but your mouth will not be set on fire. Infact, this dish is full of surprises. It doesn’t follow ‘biryani’ conventions that one is familiar with; therefore, there is no raita, no basmati, no saffron, no dry fruits and no ghee. 

So, what is the X-factor of Chettinad biryani? The rich and perfectly balanced combination of spices. They are an antidote to the stereotype that spice equals a fiery or intensely pungent taste.

Instead of raita, it is accompanied by Ennai Kathirikai, a tangy preparation of brinjals enhanced with spices. Ennai is oil and Kathirikai means brinjal in Tamil. The oil doesn’t float on the surface, but is soaked by the ingredients during the cooking process.   

The Chettinad region in Tamil Nadu was a strategic location for spice trade and its residents, the Chettiyars, prospered in the business of peppers and chillies with countries in Southeast Asia and the Arabs. Some food historians believe that Biryani was introduced in the Malabar Coast by these Arab traders.

The cuisine reflects the richness and diversity of spices available here, and Chettinad biryani encapsulates its many influences. Chicken is favoured over mutton, because fowl meat is tastier in this region and lends itself well to the spices. 

Basmati is almost synonymous with biryani. But, Chettinad Biryani exclusively uses Seeraga Samba, a short-grained fragrant rice. The grain resembles cumin seeds or jeera which is known as Seera in Tamil and Samba is the sowing period, usually August-September.    

Chettinad Biryani from JW Marriott Juhu

Dry spices are hand ground and the cooking process follows the traditional dum-style of biryani preparation. Rice is combined with meat, seasoned with spices and allowed to cook on slow fire in an Uruli, a traditional cooking pot in South India. The Uruli is covered and sealed with dough, allowing the meat to tenderise in its own juices while releasing the flavours to coat each grain.

Chettinad Biryani Recipe


500 gms Seeraga Samba rice, soaked for an hour
500 gms chicken
250 gms onion, sliced
500 gms  tomatoes, sliced
3-4 cardamom, whole
3-4 cinnamon, whole
2-3 bay leaf
2-3 mace
3-4 green chillies, slits
2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp curd
Sunflower oil for cooking
Salt to taste
½ litre boiling water
Dough for sealing the utensil

For the Biryani Masala:

3-4 nos of Kalpasi

3-4 nos of Marathi Moggu
2 nos Cardamom
½ tsp Green fennel seeds

1-2 nos cinnamon sticks

1-2 star anise, whole

1-2 bay leaf, whole


  • Hand grind the ingredients of biryani masala and keep aside.
  • In a deep bottomed pan, add five tablespoons of sunflower oil. Put the onions and cook in medium flame till they turn brown. Add cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, mace and gently stir till the spices start releasing their aromas.
  • Next, add ginger garlic paste, fresh chilli, tomatoes, chilli powder and turmeric. Cook till all the ingredients combine.
  • Now, add the biryani masala and curd and let it cook for two-three minutes.
  • Put the chicken and gently stir until each piece is coated with the masala. Let the chicken cook for at least 10-15 minutes till it is partly done and imparts its flavours to the masalas.
  • Finally, add the rice and water. Add salt to taste. Bring this to a boil.
  • Now, cover the utensil. Place a heavy object on the cover, put the flame on low, seal the cover with dough and allow the biryani to dum-cook for about 10 mins.
  • Turn off the flame and let it rest for 30 minutes before removing the seal and serving.

With inputs from Chef Jinesh Joseph, Visiting Chef at JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu

More Biryani Stories

We are big fans of biryani at Living Foodz. Don't forget to check out our other biryani stories:

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Malabar Biryani
Kerala boasts two types of Biryani named after two districts: Thalassery biryani and Kozikhode biryani. Made with the local short-grained rice, both Malabar biryani types feature the same ingredients but cooked differently. Find out what sets the two biryani types apart.

Kolkata Biryani
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Featured Image:, image used for representational purpose only


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