So I’m cheating a bit on this one.
I have a secret weapon. A secret Canadian weapon. A secret, um, Surrey, BC, weapon. Which is also, technically, an Indian weapon. Or Pakistani, depending on which one I use. My aunt gave it to me, so you can speak to her sternly about my lack of Sino-authenticity.
I will admit it: the spices are not from ’round here.
Whenever I go home, my aunt (hi Pat!) goes shopping in her local Vancouver supermarket and buys me an enormous supply of Indian spice mixes. Jalfrezi, Korma, Biryani, Chana masala, the works. I have a cupboard loaded with these things. They’re all from India or Pakistan, and the instructions on the back pretty much assume you’re cooking for 15 people and happen to have, say, a side of mutton and a large barrel of ghee at hand.
I have, um, 2 very small pieces of awful boneless ‘Chinese top’ beef, whatever that is. They’re the kind of cuts that need to be marinated in something penetratingly acidic (hence my fridge full of citrus fruit and yogurt) and then cooked for a rather long time before they take on a texture that could be described as anything other than leathery. The recipe on the back of the box calls for bone-in chunks of beef or mutton, about twice as much as we have. We’re not big meat eaters here (I’m a lapsed vegetarian) and the photo on the front of the box, replete with enormous bones jutting out of rice, is daunting.
I’m a brave little culinary soldier, so I forge ahead.
Let me show you how to make a beef biryani with just a wok and a rice cooker.
Regardless of what the instructions called for, this is what I used. The measurements were all in grams and I have no idea what a gram of tomato or spud looks like. I used a whole, peeled spud, a tomato, and half an onion. They called for 500g of rice; I used a cup, initially. It wasn’t quite enough. I’ll explain that in more detail when we get to that part.
Lovely ingredients, aren’t they? I highly recommend trying to order these spice mixes online, if possible. They make the world a very happy place.
The recipe said to make a spice paste from garlic, ginger, chillies, yogurt, lemon juice and salt.They didn’t give amounts so I just chopped everything up and threw them together. About 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, a thumb of minced ginger, a huge spoonful of home made yogurt, 1/3 of a lemon. I discovered that my fiery red chillies had turned mushy in the fridge so I had to toss them. In their place, I used about 10 blorps of a habanero hot sauce we got from the import shop. Gotta love the Mexicans for their contribution to the cuisine of the Subcontinent. The bottle says ‘one drop’ll do ya!’ but we generally use ten. Or twenty. We’re like that.
I let it marinate in the fridge all afternoon. Chinese beef tends to need time to, um, soften.
Before I introduce you to the rest of the process, I’d like to show you my rice. If you happen to be Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan or any other nationality who takes their biryanis seriously, I apologize. I live in China. I don’t have basmati. I don’t care for the plain white rice here and I try to get organic, whole grain when possible. I know it isn’t the same. My apologies.
So let me show you what I did.
The instructions on the box said to soak the rice before cooking it, so I did. I’ve never soaked rice before so I’m not sure why I’m doing this. Could someone care to enlighten me?
After setting the rice to soak, I chopped up my onion and threw it into the wok on medium low, with a few glugs of sunflower oil.
At this point, I chopped up my lone tomato, which equalled a cup according to my Canadian measuring cup, aka 250ml. No idea what they were in grams. Who measures their chopped tomatoes in grams, anyway? Not me. I measure them in, um, handfuls.
So you’ve got your tomato in the pan, softening. Rip open your spice packet, if you are so fortunate as to have access to one. Otherwise, google a nice biryani recipe then go on Taobao and go buy yourself the spices. I’ll wait here until you get them.
Get the marinated leather out of the fridge and dump it in, marinade and all. Give it a stir.
At this point, you are meant to add 3 cups of water to the mix, cover it and let it simmer for precisely 20 minutes. Did I do that? Um, no. I think mine went for 35 minutes, maybe more. While it burbled away, I cooked the brown rice in my rice cooker for half the time it normally takes, as the instructions said to cook it until half the water was gone. I let it go 20 minutes in the rice cooker, which totally confused my timing of the wok. 20 minutes for the rice? 20 minutes for the curry mix? Both started at different times?
Let’s open the bottle of nice French cake wine, shall we?
This is what it looked like after about half an hour of burbling under the lid. I added the rice I’d half cooked and it barely made a dent in the soupiness. I’m guessing I came nowhere near the 500g they called for.
And then I dropped my wooden spoon in the mire.
The rice I’d made (1 cup) was definitely proving to be insufficient, so I hastily threw in another 1/2 cup into the rice cooker (3:1 ratio for brown rice, btw) and let it do a full cooking cycle. I turned off the wok so it wouldn’t burn, then when the rice was done, I added it, stirred it a bit, turned the gas back on, and let it simmer about 5 more minutes.
It tastes awesome.
Doug made a fresh raita (my home made yogurt with one garlic clove, 1/4 onion and half a cuke) and a side salad (some sort of lettuce plus cuke and a little onion, dressed with dumpling vinegar).
We spent dinner alternating between picking bits of fragrant bark and twig out of our teeth and praising the awesomeness of the flavours.