A brasier of lamb biryani with a plate of papadums and a bowl of raita.

South Indians have been eating layered rice and meat dishes  for about 1800 years, but it’s the Mughal Dynasty (early 16th to mid 19th centuries) that’s most associated with biryani. Many regions have their own variation, but this lamb biryani, named after Roshan James’ father this is an easy introduction  if you’ve never made one before.

Yield/Servings 10-12 servings

Ben James’ Lamb Biryani

45 minPrep Time

4 hrCook Time

4 hr, 45 Total Time

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    For the lamb stew
  • 1.6 kg (3½ lbs) lamb, cut into 5-8 cm (2-3") chunks
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2½ teaspoons salt (or to taste, divided
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons plain yoghurt
  • 125 ml (½ cup) vegetable oil
  • 3 Large onions, chopped or sliced
  • 2.5 cm (1") ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 finely chopped garlic cloves (1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaf
  • 2 large tomatoes (approx. 400g, total weight), roughly chopped
  • 625 ml (2½ cups) water, as needed
  • For the garnish
  • 125 ml Vegetable oil
  • 75 g Raw cashews (½ cup)
  • 160 g Raisins (1 cup)
  • 3 Large onions, sliced
  • For the rice
  • 665 g (3½ cups) raw basmati rice washed in two to three changes of water and drained
  • 1.4 L Water
  • 3 tablespoons melted ghee or butter
  • A pinch of Saffron mixed with 2 tablespoons of hot water (optional)
  • Serve with Raita and pappadum


    For the lamb curry:
  • Wash and drain the lamb, then sprinkle curry powder, garam masala, and half the salt over the meat. Mix vinegar with yoghurt, pour onto the lamb, and mix well. Set aside.
  • Heat vegetable oil over high heat and fry the onions until lightly browned. Add ginger and garlic and stir. Continue to fry for 1 or 2 minutes, or until the ginger and garlic are aromatic but not browned. Add fresh coriander and remaining salt and mix well with the onion mixture.
  • Add spiced lamb and mix so the onion mixture evenly coats the pieces. Stir in tomatoes and cover with water. Bring to a boil for five minutes before lowering the heat to medium. Cover and cook for 20 to 25 minutes while stirring occasionally. When done, the gravy should thicken so it’s stew-like and the meat should be tender. If the gravy is too watery, unlid the pot and simmer until ready while stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  • For the garnish:
  • In a separate pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add cashews and raisins and stir until the nuts have browned. Add onions. Fry and stir well until the onions are dark brown. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
  • For the rice:
  • Combine rice with water and ghee over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower the heat and simmer for 16 or 17 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  • Constructing and steaming the biryani:
  • Preheat oven to 130C/250F. In a large lidded ovenproof pan or one that can be covered with tin foil, spoon 3 cm (approximately 1 inch) layers of rice, lamb with gravy, and garnish, and then sprinkle the optional saffron. Repeat these layers until all ingredients are used up. Lid or tightly cover with tin foil and let steam in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes.
  • When ready, remove from oven and let stand, still covered for 20 minutes.
  • To serve:
  • If you’re serving directly from the roasting dish, lightly fluff the rice with a fork before taking it to the table. Alternatively, you can spoon it onto a serving platter.
  • Serve with raita and pappadums.

What’s a spoon or a cup?

A version of  Ben James’ Lamb Biryani appeared in my profile of  Roshan James for my World of Food column for Grand Magazine (May-June 2021).