Ambur Biryani

On your way to Bangalore (from Chennai), there’s one stop you need to make and that is in Ambur. Make sure you’re there in Ambur by lunch time or dinner time because Ambur Biryani is world famous. It’s one biryani that should feature on every biryani lover’s bucket list. Ambur biryani is fiery hot, headily aromatic and absolutely lip-smacking. It is usually made with Seeraga Samba rice (but I’ve used Basmati Rice in the recipe). Whenever we’re returning to Chennai, we stop at Ambur for dinner and buy parcels for those at home. The biryani is so intoxicatingly fragrant, Mahindra Scorpio suddenly feels like a huge biryani Deksa.

ambur biryani

The secret to the Ambur biryani is the whole dry red chillies that are soaked in hot water and ground to a paste before being added to the biryani. No chilli powder in this biryani. The biryani gets its heat from this chilli paste. Freshly ground cinnamon powder is the other magic ingredient. Together the chilli paste and cinnamon powder fashion a masterful biryani. I marinated the chicken in the masala before cooking it and the chicken turned out unbelievably soft, juicy and most importantly was as wonderfully flavoured as the biryani. Usually the meat in biryanis is a stranger to the biryani it sits in, it doesn’t soak up the masala and it usually tastes bland. But not this one. So people, please marinate the meat. Always do. Follow these steps and you have my word, you will have wonderful Ambur Biryani in your own house. Your house will smell heavenly, i.e. like a Biryani kadai type of heaven, be prepared for it.

ambur biryani

Here’s a handy list of other biryani recipes:

Chettinad Chicken Biryani
Home-style Chicken Biryani
Chicken biryani cooked in coconut milk

Prep time: 30 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Serves: 5-6  


Chicken – 750 gm
Basmati Rice – 4 cups rinsed and soaked for a minimum of 1 hour
Onions – 3 large chopped fine
Tomatoes – 3 large chopped fine
Green chillies – 2 kept whole
Yogurt – 100 gm
Cloves – 4
Cinnamon stick – 2 inch piece
Marathi Moggu – 2
Bay Leaf – 2
Mace – 2 pieces
Cinnamon sticks – 2 powdered (makes about 1 heaped tbsp.)
Turmeric powder – 1 tsp
Coriander leaves – 1/2 cup chopped
Water as necessary
Salt to taste
Ghee – 4 tbsp
Oil – 4 tbsp

Masala paste

Ginger – 5 tbsp chopped
Garlic – 1 entire head peeled
Whole Dry Red chillies – 15-18 (I used the long ones) soaked in hot water for 20 mins


1.      Clean and wash chicken well. Pat dry and set aside.

2.      Rinse rice in 2-3 changes of water till the water runs clear. Then soak in water for 1 hour or up to 2 hours.

3.      Drop whole dry red chillies in hot water and let soak for 20 minutes.

4.      Grind together ginger, garlic and soaked red chillies to a fine paste. Don’t discard the water that the chillies were soaking in. Use it to grind the masala paste and if you still have some, use it while adding water to the biryani.

5.      Take chicken in a large bowl. Add 3/4th of the ground masala paste. Add in the turmeric powder, powdered cinnamon, salt and about 3 tbsp of the yogurt. Mix well with your hands so that all the chicken is thoroughly coated with the masala. Cover and set aside for 40 minutes to 1 hour.

6.      In the meantime, chop up the onions and tomatoes. Prepare the raita and boiled eggs.

7.      Heat up a pressure cooker and pour in the ghee and oil. When hot add the whole spices – bay leaves, cloves, Marathi moggu, cinnamon and mace. When the spices are fragrant, add in the chopped onions and sauté till they turn translucent. Then add in the chopped tomatoes and sauté for a minute. Add the remaining yogurt and fry till it is absorbed.

8.      Drop in the chicken along with the marinade. Make sure to scrape the last drop of marinade and add it to the cooker. Mix well, cover and cook on low till the chicken turns white and is cooked through. This would take about 10-15 minutes. Check the chicken in between and give it a stir. It would have thickened nicely to a gravy consistency.

9.      Now add the rice and mix well with the chicken. Level the rice and chicken with your spatula/karandi. Pour in the water that the rice was soaking in. If you have the chilli soaked water, pour that in too. Tip in your index finger and measure the water level. It should be just above the first line on your index finger. If it’s not, add some more water till it reaches the mark. Taste the water and add salt if necessary. Drop in the whole green chillies.

Note the yellow mark of the biryani liquid between the first
and second lines on my index finger. That should be the
height of  the liquid above the rice/chicken layers.

10.   Cover with the pressure cooker lid and plug in the weight when the steam starts coming out. Immediately reduce heat to low and cook for 12-15 minutes. Switch off and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Remove the weight and open up the pressure cooker. Drop in the coriander leaves and use a long fork to gently fluff up the rice. Cover again till serving time to keep hot. Serve hot with boiled eggs and raita.


1.      If making mutton biryani, follow the same steps to marinate the meat. In-fact mutton needs to marinate longer. So marinate mutton for 3 hours or even overnight for the best results. You’ll have to pressure cook the meat for 2-4 whistles or about 15-20 minutes till tender. Then continue with the same method as above.

2.      I made a vegetable biryani the same way because ours is a combo (veg-nonveg) family. Marinate your choice of vegetables (carrots, beans, peas, cauliflower) for 1 hour or even overnight and proceed with the above method.

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