Cooking and Preparation Time:  About 2 hours

You might think at first glance there is little difference between akhni and biriani, but what distinguishes them is the cooking technique and final presentation. Biriani is a rich sauce thickened with fried onions served on a bed of saffron rice, whereas akhni is gentler and all together different. Biriani is for celebrations and akhni is the dish for good friends.

FOR THE MARINADE:

  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 1″ of fresh ginger root, peeled with a knife
  • ½ T. cumin seeds
  • ½ T. French seal salt
  • 1 T. Greek yogurt
  • 1 lb. lamb from the shoulder or let, cut into 1” chunks

FOR THE RICE

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 ½ fresh ginger
  • 1-2 Serrano chilies
  • 2 t. French sea salt
  • 2 c. basmati rice (Royal Brand preferred)
  • 1 inch of a cinnamon stick
  • 5 cardamoms
  • 6 cloves
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 2 t. cumin seeds
  • 2 T. peanut oil
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 medium onion, halved and sliced into half-moons from the root to the tip
  • 1 c. Cento peeled tomatoes, San Marzano, drained and rinsed in a colander, tops of the tomatoes removed

INSTRUCTIONS

To make the marinade, dice the garlic, ginger, cumin seeds and salt and the grind to a paste using a mortar and pestle. Add the yogurt and mix thoroughly. Put the meat mix in a medium sized pan and set for 20 minutes in the fridge, in the pan. Put the pan over high heat and bring to a boil (yes, it will boil, as the lamb reduces in its own juice). Boil for 10 minutes with a lid on. Add 3 c. boiling water and reduced heat to a simmer. Cook until the meat is tender, 60-90 minutes.

While you wait for the meat to cook, start preparing the rice. Finely chop the garlic, ginger, green chilies and 1 t. of salt and then grind in a mortar and pestle to a paste. When the meat has cooked for 40 minutes, wash the rice in several changes of water, until the water runs clear. Soak the rice in warm water for 20 minutes while you make the masala.

Put the cinnamon, cardamoms, cloves, peppercorns and cumin seeds in a glass of water. Let stand for a few minutes while you heat the oil and butter in a large heavy pot. Drain the whole spices in a sieve and add to the pan, they will sizzle and release their aromas. Add the onion and fry over medium heat, stirring very frequently and scraping the bottom, until the onion is golden brown.

Add the ginger-garlic paste, fray for a few seconds, and then add the chopped tomatoes. Increase heat to high and cook the masala rapidly until the tomatoes break down and oil pools around the sides of the pa, about 10 minutes. Lift the cooked meat from the cooking liquid (reserve) with a slotted spoon and add it to the masala and simmer for 5 more minutes to combine the flavors. Pour the reserved cooking liquid into a blender and add enough hot water to make 4 cups of liquid.

Add the reserved cooking liquid and water back to the masala with a last teaspoon of salt and bring to the boil. Drain the rice and add it to the pan. Stir thoroughly but gently and return to the boil. Cover the pan with the lid and cook the rice rapidly for 10 minutes, then reduce and simmer very gently until the rice is almost cooked. You mad need to turn the rice gently from time to time and you may need to add more water if there is none in the bottom.

When almost done turn off the rice, top with the lid and leave to stand so the rice can finish steaming in the residual heat.

p.s. yes, we know the service isn’t traditional but this is a 4′ platter and it works well for Americans a bit timid about truly sharing scoops off the same plate while still giving a communal feel to the meal, but you really should eat this dish with your fingers, no matter how you serve it.