A few weeks ago, we started the mortifying challenge of trying to find a home to purchase in the Bay. If you’ve watched Million Dollar Listing: San Francisco on Bravo, you’ll get my drift. It’s a stressful experience with all the competitiveness . It’s similar to taking a test without knowing what the topics are so you might as well study everything you can think of. But the one part I do love, is to take a sneak peek at all the different homes on the market. For a brief moment it gives me the option to take a peek into someone else’s life and imagine it as my own. What a future home could look like and the endless possibilities that lie ahead when it comes to decorating and styling a home. Let’s see what happens in the days to come. (Also, what’s with the upside down photographs of homes ?)
Some of you have asked me previously about my experience making the transition to working as a pastry cook. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life and career. I didn’t go to pastry school and I’ve decided that for now, I won’t. The cost of attending culinary school and the current loan rates make it difficult for me to justify attending school. But working in a pastry shop kitchen gave me a lot of those tools from cooking to styling but also in other aspects such as customer service and paying attention to detail. And of course, speed, that’s an important skill you will acquire on the job. Since, I had no experience prior to this and culinary education to back my work, it was hard finding a job. But be persistent it will pay off! I made a list of all the bakeries and pastry shops that were in a 15 mile radius from where I live and called each and everyone one of them. I was fortunate that one person, finally called me back and gave me a chance to come in and try out. I decided to go part-time at my pharmaceutical job and then see if I would actually last at the pastry shop. After a month, I knew that this was exactly the kind of education and work experience I needed and my time there has been rewarding. Working in a kitchen has its moments, it’s not all “diamonds and rosé”.
We work long hours and you’re on your feet all day long, you tend to make the same things all the time but remember every time you remake a dessert you learn from the previous experience and it will be better than the previous time. Your clothes will get messy but you do build muscles because you lift heavy sheets of sweet goodness. You learn how to style and be clean and appreciate what the elements in a dessert garnish. Apply practicality when styling and think of how it will make the dessert stand out and taste but also how your customer will react to out and want to come back for more. This experience has made me think about creating food in more ways than I could have ever imagined.
I now start a new chapter in my life, I’ve accepted a job as a food photographer in the city and will be working at Sprig where I get the opportunity to not only style and shoot food but also work closely with a talented team of chefs and creative people who’s mission is to bring affordable and healthy meals to everyone created from locally sourced organic ingredients. This is going to be one exciting journey!
Speaking of new experiences, I’m sharing one of my favorite Indian recipes today. Chicken biryani, it’s the one pot wonder dish that I make often when I have a lot of guests over and I’m short on time. Biryani is a layered rice and meat (beef/lamb)/poultry dish (there are other versions with vegetables, shrimp, fish and even eggs), though the components of the seasoning used change a little depending on the type of protein. Traditionally, you would cook the rice and meat in a large pot but I’ve found a new way to do this. I’m using my tagine from Le Creuset. The base is made of strong cast-iron which ensures even heating when frying the spices and cooking the chicken but the very nature of tagine helps to lock in the steam and cook the meat and rice and make it even more tender and flavorful.
Chicken biryani is a very flavorful and aromatic dish. The meat is seasoned with a rich combination of spices and then mixed in with basmati rice that’s been seasoned with a lot of green cardamom, black cardamom, cloves and bay leaves. Imagine all those rich and sweet fragrances separately and then imagine them combined, that’s what make biryani special. Not only is it a one pot meal, it’s also one of the most fragrant and tastiest dishes to impress people with and it doesn’t really require much effort other than cooking the components and putting them together.
Here are some of my kitchen tips that you might find useful when preparing this dish,
- There are two ways to cook biryani, one involves cooking everything together and the other way (which I use here) is to cook everything separately and then add the components together. I like the second method because I know the meat is completely cooked before I serve it.
- Marinade your chicken for at least 2 hours, I prefer to do this overnight in a ziplock bag and perhaps shake the bag every 10 to 12 hours to mix things up.
- I recommend using full fat or low-fat greek yogurt in the marinade for a tastier chicken and sauce.
- I use whole spices to flavor the rice. Just remember to avoid eating them. You could also remove them from the rice before adding the chicken but I like the interesting textures they add to the dish.
- Use good quality long grain basmati rice only in this dish. Any other type of rice won’t do this justice. I don’t recommend using wild rice or the multicolored basmati rice here as the rice takes on various colors from the chicken sauce and turmeric when it comes into contact making a fun and interesting color palette.
- You can also grab 1/4 cup of the rice after it is cooked (just before you add the chicken) and mix it with 2 tablespoons of hot water mixed with a tiny pinch of saffron. The rice will take on a pretty orange color. Sprinkle this randomly over the rice and then add the chicken and garnishes.
- I’ve used chicken drumsticks here but the breast or thigh will also work here. I like to use chicken with bones in this dish because the meat is much more tender after it is cooked. You don’t need to use the skin if you don’t like it.
Here are some accompaniments that you can serve with this chicken biryani;
- cucumber mint cilantro raita
- pumpkin raita (I would serve this in fall)
- summer tomato salad
chicken biryani tagine
equipment: 4 3/4 quart tagine
for the chicken
6 large chicken drumsticks (with/without skin) (approximately 1 lb)
1/2 cup greek yogurt
4 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 teaspoon kosher sea salt
1 teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper powder, freshly ground
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon grated ginger root, fresh
1 tablespoon grated garlic, fresh
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
for the garnish
1 1/2 cups red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 green or red thai chili peppers, sliced in half
2 cups white potatoes, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup vegetable oil /ghee
for the rice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil/ghee
3 bay leaves
10 green cardamom pods, whole, gently crushed
2 black cardamom pods, whole, gently crushed
10 cloves, whole
1 1/2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and soaked for 20 minutes in cold tap water
2 cups water
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro leaves, julienned or chopped
1. Pat the chicken dry with a clean paper towel. Make a couple of gashes in each drumstick and keep aside. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade from the yogurt to the turmeric in a large gallon ziploc bag. Add the chicken to this marinade and seal the bag. Mix to coat the chicken and then place it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours preferably overnight.
2. On the day of preparation: Take the cast iron base of the tagine and heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil/ghee on medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot add the onions and salt and stir to coat with the oil. Cover the tagine base with the lid and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the onions for about 15 to 20 minutes until they have caramelized and turned completely brown. You will need to open the tagine and stir the onions occasionally to ensure they don’t burn. Add a little more oil if necessary. Add the chilies in the last two minutes and cook. Remove the caramelized onions and chilies from the tagine and keep aside until ready to use.
3. In the same tagine, add the remaining oil and fry the potatoes until they are crispy and golden brown. This will take about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and place them on a clean paper towel to drain the excess oil.
4. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator after marination. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in the same tagine, on medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces with the marinade and cover the tagine with the lid and cook for about 12-15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked and tender. Remove the chicken and the gravy separately, and keep aside until ready to use.
5. Heat the one tablespoon of oil in the same tagine on medium-high heat. Add the green cardamom, black cardamom and cloves. Fry them in the oil for 30 seconds. Drain the soaked rice and add it to the tagine. Add the salt and water and mix. Cover the tagine with the lid and cook the rice on medium-high heat for about 10-12 minutes until all the water has almost just evaporated. Reduce the heat to a medium-low.
6. Arrange the chicken pieces over the rice, drizzle the remaining gravy over the chicken. Sprinkle the onions and potatoes over the rice and chicken. Cover the tagine back with its lid and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from stove and keep aside. Just before serving garnish the biryani with the cilantro. Serve with cold yogurt/raita and a chilled salad.
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Le Creuset and all opinions stated here are purely my own.
As a Bay Area resident, I totally understand the housing crisis here!! But, I love myself some good bryani. It’ll make me forget about the real estate market here😉
Amazing Nik! I would call it guts to be able to quit a long held pharma job and risk into a new profession and start from scratch. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy move. Your passion and dedication is commendable. It shines through this blog, your posts, recipes and photographs. Kudos! Your Biryani Tagine looks wonderful!
I love the courage you had to make such a life changing, it’s not easy to leave a "safe job". By the way, I hope that renting in Sf is easier!!
Congratulations Nik on your decision (about pastry school) and also on your new job – you’re incredibly talented, and all the best with your property search!! PS: This biryani!!
So much amazingness in this post! New adventures and challenges are a great way to wake the soul! Good on ya for being brave enough to make the leap…
Wow, Nik. There’s a lot to take in in this post! Kudos to you at working hard for the things you love. Having worked as a pastry chef in a variety of kitchens, your experience in a professional kitchen really resonates with me. I think you made the right decision to get the hands on experience rather than go to culinary school. Well done. And congratulations on the new job at Sprig. Very exciting. You’ll bring your multiple talents to that, too. It looks like a great service. I hope you and your husband find the home of your dreams soon. And thank you for this delicious tagine. D
congrats for the new job!! and these pictures are gorgeous <3
Hi Nik, I stopped by from Instagram. Your photos are a pleasure to browse and I love seeing them pop up in my feed.
Always something fresh and Inspiring with enviable lighting, styling and staging.
Good luck with the career transition and house hunting too.
Yay Nik! You’re killing it.
sending you big hugs so many good news! it is so nice to know that you are moving to your career where you are truly happy..this makes me happy actually 🙂
biryani is one of my favorite things to eat but my boyfriend on the other hand…does not understand why we add chicken and rice together.
Congrats a million my friend! So excited about the new job. I was also considering culinary school, but the cost of attendance and average pay were just not adding up. Good luck with the house hunt!
We were looking for a new house since last January and finally got THE house which, if nothing goes wrong, we will be moving in next month!! It’s weird walking in "stranger" houses and try to imagine yourself living there. But it will happen! One day you will visit a house and will feel it’s your home.
Good luck and congratulations on your new job!!
how much black cardamom? thanks for the recipe: visited India a couple of years ago and Morocco this year, my life is changed! hope you enjoy your change of career.
I’ve updated the recipe, June. Thank you!
This is the BEST NEWS, Nik!!! You are an inspiration through and through, and it is so amazing to see you realize your dreams (even if, or especially because, it isn’t all diamonds and rose!) You’re a serious badass and I’m so full of admiration for you in this exciting time. Food photography and the pastry world are so lucky to have you! As for this biryani, I think I could go for an entire tagine-ful. So amazing as always. The biggest yays for you!!
Congratulations on your new job, Nik! You are going to WOW everyone! 🙂
Sounds like a milestone moment for you. Congratulations on the new opportunity and buying a home in SF. An exciting time. Thanks for sharing this recipe and for your beautiful capturing of it all.
Amazing! I want to eat all of this.
Will try this recipe this weekend! I had never heard of biriyani until I met my husband, who would happily eat it everyday for the rest of this life. I’ve tried 3 recipes now and only the most recent attempt was successful. Fingers crossed for my 4th go 🙂 I’m somewhat new to your blog, but sounds like lots of exciting things are happening, congrats and good luck!
Where I live, indian cuisine is a huge part of our food culture and we have had several Indian and Pakistani neighbors but I had never really paid much attention to how this chicken briyani is made. Now i’m sold. Making this soon.
Also congratulations on landing that photographer job Your work is amazing!