Ethihad Airways’ Lamb Biryani

  • Serves

    serves 4-6


Pan-fried lamb, spiced rice, and a velvety sauce are prepared separately and then layered together for lamb biryani made to order on flights of the United Arab Emirates' Etihad Airways. This recipe first appeared in our May 2014 issue with the story Above and Beyond.


  • 15 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 (5") piece ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 2 12 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 lb. boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 3" pieces
  • 12 cup canola oil
  • 2 small yellow onions (1 sliced 1/2″ crosswise into rings, 1 minced)
  • 3 tbsp. ghee or clarified butter
  • 2 tbsp. ground cumin powder
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 chiles de árbol, stemmed
  • 1 serrano chile, stemmed and minced
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, plus 1 stick
  • 12 tsp. ground cloves, plus 3 whole
  • 1 (15-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed by hand
  • 12 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 green cardamom pods, cracked
  • 2 cups long-grain basmati rice, soaked in cold water 30 minutes and drained
  • 1 tsp. saffron threads
  • 13 cup cashews, lightly toasted
  • 14 cup roughly chopped mint


Step 1

Purée garlic and ginger in a food processor into a paste; set 2⁄3 of the paste aside. Transfer remaining paste to a bowl; stir in 2 cups yogurt, the turmeric, salt, and pepper. Add lamb; toss. Cover with plastic wrap; chill 2 hours.

Step 2

Heat oven to 375°. Heat half the oil and the onion rings in an ovenproof 12″ skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized, 12–15 minutes; transfer to a bowl. Add ghee to skillet; heat over medium-high. Working in batches, cook lamb, turning as needed, until browned, 6–8 minutes. Return all lamb to skillet; bake until tender, about 45 minutes. Transfer lamb to a cutting board and chop.

Step 3

Discard all but 3 tbsp. pan drippings; return skillet to medium-high heat. Add half the remaining garlic paste, plus half each of the minced onion, cumin, peppercorns, chiles de árbol, and serrano, plus the ground cinnamon and ground cloves; cook until golden, 4–6 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, salt, and 1 cup water; simmer until tomatoes break down, 4–6 minutes. Transfer to a blender with remaining yogurt, the cilantro, and butter; purée into a smooth sauce and keep warm.

Step 4

Heat remaining oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook remaining garlic paste, onion, cumin, peppercorns, chiles de árbol, and serrano, plus cinnamon stick, whole cloves, and the cardamom until fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Add rice, saffron, salt, and 4 cups water; boil. Reduce heat to low; cook, covered, until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Uncover and transfer rice to a platter; top with lamb and caramelized onions. Drizzle with sauce; garnish with cashews and mint.

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