Pakistani Lamb Biryani

  • Serves

    serves 6


This recipe comes from SAVEUR kitchen assistant Ambreen Hasan, a native of Karachi, Pakistan. We featured it as part of our "Queen of Spices" article (April 2010), an ode to the many ways in which cardamom is used.


  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
  • 12 tsp. turmeric
  • 18 black peppercorns
  • 9 pods green cardamom
  • 3 pods black cardamom
  • 2 sticks (2") cinnamon
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 tomatoes, cored and minced
  • 5 serrano chiles, stemmed and minced
  • 1 (1 1/2") piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 lb. trimmed lamb shoulder, cut into 2–3" pieces
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 12 cup plain yogurt
  • 34 cup roughly chopped mint leaves
  • 14 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • 40 threads saffron, crushed (heaping 1/2 tsp.)
  • 2 12 cups white basmati rice, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes, drained
  • 12 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • Rose water or kewra essence (optional)
  • Red/orange food color (optional)


Step 1

Heat ¼ cup oil in a 5-qt. skillet over high heat. Add onions; cook, stirring occasionally, until dark brown, 20–25 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; set aside.

Step 2

Heat remaining oil in a 5-qt. pot over high heat. Add garam masala, chile flakes, turmeric, 10 peppercorns, 5 green cardamom pods, 2 black cardamom pods, and 1 cinnamon stick; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add garlic, tomatoes, chiles, and ginger; cook, stirring, 2–3 minutes. Add lamb, season with salt, and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium; cook until lamb is tender, about 1 hour. Add fried onions, yogurt, ½ cup mint, and 2 tbsp. cilantro; cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes more. Set aside.

Step 3

Put saffron into a bowl and cover with ½ cup hot water; set aside. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a 5-qt. saucepan. Add remaining peppercorns, green and black cardamom, and cinnamon, along with the rice, cumin, cloves, and bay leaves, and season with salt. Cook rice until al dente, 5–10 minutes; drain rice and set aside.

Step 4

Transfer half the lamb curry to a 5-qt. pot. Top lamb with half the rice. Pour half the saffron mixture onto rice along with a few drops of rose water and food coloring (if using); mix into rice with your fingers. Top with remaining lamb curry and remaining rice; drizzle with remaining saffron; mix. Steam, covered, on low heat until rice is tender, about 10 minutes. Garnish with remaining mint and cilantro.

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