Dinner/ Pakistani Recipes/ Recipes/ Rice Recipes/ Seafood

Fish Biryani | Boneless Fish Biryani, Pakistani Style

A plate of Pakistani style fish biryani with raita in the background.

Fish biryani is a layered fish and rice dish from the Indian sub-continent. This recipe is of the Pakistani style fish biryani made with boneless fish and layered with aromatic Basmati rice and a flavourful fish biryani masala. Serve hot with raita on the side.

So I realised that as much as I love biryani, I actually don’t have a biryani recipe on the blog. Can you believe that?!

That situation is changing from today. Presenting to you, scrumptious fish biryani made in the Pakistani style, completely from scratch using homemade spices. Read on ahead for to learn how to make fish biryani from scratch along with tips on how to use a boxed spice mix if you don’t want to go the homemade spice route.

Also, just a note – this is the first of hopefully many biryani recipes on the blog.

Ingredients laid out for Pakistani style fish biryani.
Ingredients for Pakistani style fish biryani

What is Biryani?

Biryani is a layered meat and rice dish with roots in Persian cuisine. Biryani is usually made with meat (chicken, mutton / goat meat or beef) but there are seafood options such as this fish biryani as well as prawn biryani. There is also vegetable biryani though most hard core meat lovers end up calling vegetable biryani pulao. Either ways, whatever the protein used, biryani is delicious!

There are two main types of biryani:

Kache gosht ki biryani (biryani made with raw meat) – this particular biryani is associated with Hyderabadi cuisine, which is food from the province of Hyderabad Deccan in India. The biryani is made with raw meat and parboiled rice that are cooked together. There is a lot of skill that goes into making this biryani because the raw meat has to be completely cooked without the rice getting overdone.

Pakke gosht ki biryani (biryani made with cooked meat / qorma) – in this biryani the meat of choice is cooked separately, and the rice is parboiled. The cooked meat gravy (known as qorma) is layered with the parboiled rice, and steamed till the rice is done.

The fish biryani recipe that I am sharing today is based on the 2nd method.

A plate of Pakistani style fish biryani with raita in the background.

How to make Fish Biryani?

The recipe that I have used to make this fish biryani is actually how I make my regular chicken biryani, with a few adjustments. The main steps to make this fish biryani are as follows.

  • Marinate and fry the fish: Marinate the fish, and let it sit for 15 – 20 minutes then shallow fry the fish. Once the fish is fried, set it aside. The usual methodology for biryani is to cook the protein (chicken, lamb or mutton / goat meat) in the biryani masala. But since fish is such a delicate protein, the fish biryani masala is made separate to the fried fish.
  • Make the fish biryani masala (aka qorma): In the same frying pan that was used to fry off the fish, start making the fish biryani masala. Start off with sauteing onions and whole spices, then add the tomatoes and the powdered spices. Saute and cook, or ‘bhunofy’ as it’s called in Indian and Pakistani cuisine till the rawness of the spices disappear, the oil separates from the top, and the gravy comes together.
  • Parboil the rice: To make biryani, the rice needs to be parboiled – it should be more than half cooked but not completely cooked through. This is because the final cooking will take place during the ‘dum’ when the biryani masala and rice are layered together.
  • Layer the biryani and put it on ‘dum’ (steam): Layer the rice, the fish biryani masala, the fried fish and the biryani garnishes in a large pot or Dutch oven and cook it on low simmer. This technique is called ‘dum’ (translating to steam) because the resulting steam is what would finish off the cooking process, and also infuse flavor at the same time. Once the biryani is ready, serve hot with raita.
A Dutch oven cast iron pot with boneless fish biryani in the Pakistani style in it.

What type of fish to use for Pakistani style fish biryani?

  • Fish biryani is usually made with bone-in fish steaks. They look really pretty, and they also hold up really well. King fish (Surmai), Halibut or Rahu are common options.
  • In saying that, I prefer to use boneless fish for my fish biryani because I don’t want to deal with bones in my biryani. Any firm white fish will work cut into large fillets – just be careful in frying the fish fillets so that they don’t overcook or break apart. Options include Basa fillet, tilapia, cod, halibut and hoki.
  • It is also possible to use frozen fish – just thaw the fish and then use in the recipe as directed.

Looking for more Pakistani & Indian recipes for your weekly dinner inspiration. Check out the following:

  1. Ginger Chicken, Pakistani style
  2. Murghi ka Salan (Chicken curry with Onions and Tomatoes)
  3. Karahi Chicken
  4. Chicken kofta curry (Pakistani style chicken meatball curry)
  5. Traditional chicken korma

Would love it if you could try out and rate the recipe, and let me know how it was in the comments below! 

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Fish Biryani

Fish biryani is a layered fish and rice dish from the Indian sub-continent. This recipe is of the Pakistani style fish biryani made with boneless fish and layered with aromatic Basmati rice and a flavourful fish biryani masala.
Course Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine Indian, Pakistani
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 6 people
Calories 350 kcal

Ingredients

For the fish marinade:

  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon coriander seeds crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste substitute with ½ teaspoon ginger paste and ½ teaspoon garlic paste
  • 500 g boneless fish fillets see note 1
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup oil divided

Fish biryani masala (aka qorma) whole spices:

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds crushed
  • 3 cardamom pods elaichi
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon crushed cumin seeds
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 1 inch stick cinnamon

Fish biryani masala (aka qorma) gravy ingredients:

  • 300 g / 2 medium onions
  • 250 g / 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste substitute with ½ teaspoon ginger paste and ½ teaspoon garlic paste
  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala powder whole spices powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ½ teaspoon coriander powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

For the rice:

  • 2 1/2 cups / 500g basmati rice
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the garnish:

  • ½ cup cilantro / coriander leaves
  • ¼ cup mint leaves
  • ½ lemon cut into slices
  • 2 green chilies cut into half

Instructions

Marinating and frying the fish

  1. Place the red chili powder, turmeric powder, salt, crushed coriander seeds, lemon juice and ginger garlic paste in a small bowl. Mix well, and then apply the paste to the boneless fish fillets. Leave the fish to marinate for 20 minutes.
  2. Heat ½ cup oil in a shallow frying pan. The same pan will be used to make the fish masala later so pick a medium – large sized pan.
  3. Once the oil is hot enough, add the marinated fish and shallow fry about 1 ½ – 2 minutes each side till fish is almost cooked through. Remove the fried fish and set aside.

For the fish masala gravy (qorma):

  1. In the same pan add the remaining ½ cup oil along with the sliced onions.
  2. Cook the onion, until they become golden brown and crispy. Don’t let them burn – they will turn bitter. Take about 2 tablespoons of the crispy onions for the topping.
  3. Add the whole spices and fry for a minute, and then add the ginger garlic paste.
  4. Fry for another minute, and then add the chopped tomatoes along with the powdered spices, along with any leftover spices from the fish marinade.
  5. Once the tomatoes and powdered spices have been added, saute on medium-high heat till the water from the tomatoes dry up, and they get soft and caramelized. It maybe necessary to add a tablespoon or two of water as needed to ensure that the spices don’t burn. This stop is called ‘bhono’ in Indian and Pakistani cooking, and it requires cooking at a medium-high flame, while stirring every couple of seconds – this ensures that the rawness from the powdered spices goes away, while also ensuring that the gravy comes together. The step is complete when the oil separates from the sides, and rises to the top.
  6. Once the fish biryani masala mixture is ready, set it aside.

Prepare the rice:

  1. Start preparing the rice, after the fish has been set to marinate.
  2. Thoroughly wash the Basmati rice, and soak it in water for 15 minutes.
  3. Place a medium pot over medium-high heat and bring 1 1/2 litres of water to a boil. Once the water comes to a boil, add the rice along with salt, bay leaf and cloves. Wait for it to come to a boil, and then cook for around 5 minutes. The rice should be about 65% cooked – test by breaking the rice with your finger or tasting it (this is what I do). The rice should have a bite to it – it shouldn’t be raw, and it shouldn’t be cooked completely. Drain the rice, and set aside.

Layering and Steaming (Dum)

  1. Take a large pot or dutch oven – it should be enough to fit the rice, the fish and the masala and still have 2 – 3 inches space from the top.
  2. Layer 1/3 rice at the bottom, and then add 1/3rd of the fish masala gravy. Top with another 1/3 of the rice, followed by the fish masala gravy, and ½ of the fish pieces. Top with the remaining rice, the remaining fish masala gravy, and the fried fish.
  3. Sprinkle with coriander / cilantro leaves, mint leaves, the remaining fried onions, lemon slices and green chilies.
  4. Cover the pot and layer the lid with aluminium foil, or a kitchen cloth to seal the lid tightly. This is important as it helps in ensuring that the steam doesn’t escape. A heavy weight can be kept on the lid as well to help in this step.
  5. Place the pot on an insulator – this can be a tawa, a flat gridle or a heat diffuser (available at Asian and Indian stores). If you have a cast iron Dutch oven or another heavy bottomed pan, this diffuser isn't necessary. Turn the heat to medium for about 5 – 7 minutes. This will help in creating the steam.

  6. Once the steam is formed, turn heat to low / simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes on ‘dum’ – this means that the rice will cook in its own steam. Turn off the stove, and let the biryani rest for 10 minutes.

  7. To serve, carefully mix the biryani using a small plate or a rice spoon. Move the rice from the sides, and lightly mix ensuring that the rice and the fried fish doesn’t break. Serve the fish biryani hot with yoghurt or raita.

Recipe Notes

  1. Fish biryani is usually made with bone-in fish steaks. They look really pretty, and they also hold up really well. King fish (Surmai), Halibut or Rahu are common options. In saying that, I prefer to use boneless fish for my fish biryani because I don’t want to deal with bones in my biryani. Any firm white fish will work cut into large fillets – just be careful in frying the fish fillets so that they don’t overcook or break apart. Options include Basa fillet, tilapia, cod, halibut and hoki. It is also possible to use frozen fish – just thaw the fish and then use in the recipe as directed.

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