Fish Biryani

Do you guys ever think about food? As in ‘Id like to eat/make something with ____ that tastes ____’. Well I do, not very often mind you; I am usually a follow the recipe kinda girl. But I have been thinking about fish biryani lately. Now, we eat a lot of biryani in this house and historically my fish biryani recipe has been a variant of this one here. Since I usually buy whatever firm white fish is on sale (Basa this time around) I started to feel that my traditional masalas were too strong for a delicate fish. Plus it’s summer you know, time to lighten up – at least flavor wise. Far be it from me to suggest that white rice is diet food 🙂

On a serious note, it is easier on the oil than most biryanis  or curries and that actually contributes to the lightness and freshness of the flavors. Also, dill and fish equals yumminess. Trust me – or even better, try it for yourself and see!

Fish Biryani
Serves 6

750 grams boneless skinless firm white fish fillets
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp garlic
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp salt

One medium to large onion
6 Garlic Cloves
1 tsp Cumin seeds
3/4 tsp Nigella/Onion seeds
3-4 chopped green chillies
Handful of fresh dill
Handful of fresh cilantro
1-2 tsp Salt
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
Two tomatoes
1/3 cup of yogurt – whipped and room temperature
One lemon

4 cups rice


Okay first things first; mix all the marinade ingredients, rub them onto the fish and set aside.

Next ‘wash’ your rice in a few runs of water until the water starts to look clear and then set it aside to soak as well.


Now bring out your trusty chopping board. Finely dice your onion – you should get roughly 1 ½ cup – see! I measured even!


Now mince your garlic, dice the tomatoes, finely chop the cilantro and dill as well as your green chillies.

Time to cook people. Warm ¼ cup of oil on medium heat in a heavy bottomed pot and add in your diced onions. Once the onions start to turn translucent add the garlic, stir fry for a minute then add the cumin seeds and nigella seeds. Smelling yummy? Good.


Time to throw in your chopped green chillies, let them cook for 2 minutes then add in that wonderfully fragrant dill and my buddy cilantro.


Cook for about 3 minutes and then add in the rest of the masala. Please note that typically with biryani I cook the masala longer, on higher heat and earlier, but those three things tend to make it stronger and that was not my aim today. So just give it another 2 minutes, lower the heat and then add the tomatoes. Just like we are going easy on masala cooking time we are also going easy on the tomatoes i.e. no caramelizing. Just a nice pretty almost mushy paste. That will take a bit of time though so at this point you can start cooking the rice if you please.

Put enough water in your pot that there a few extra inches of water over the rice and then add 3 tablespoons of salt – remember when I say tablespoons I mean the kind you’d use to measure if you were baking not the spoon that you would actually eat with or serve food with. When the rice is parboiled i.e. it has a little bit of a bite or you can see an opaque white center in an otherwise translucent grain, then drain it and set aside till you are ready to layer.

When the tomatoes have become paste like and you can see the oil rising above your masala mix then taste it. I am serious, this is your last opportunity to adjust seasoning. It should be salty, if it isn’t then add more salt. It should have a little heat, if it does not then add more red chilli powder. Good to go? Awesome.

Now add your marinated fish. Be careful – you don’t want to mangle the fish, it breaks easily. I usually cover the pot and let it cook for 5-7 minutes, but cooking time will depend entirely on the kind of fish you buy. Just don’t overcook it – no one likes rubbery fish. Now squeeze the juice of half a lemon over your fish and reserve the other half for the end.


Layer half your rice at the bottom of your largest pot. Gently place the fish on top of the rice. Take a quick look at your masala – if it looks too watery then cook for a few minutes to dry up the extra water and then add the masala on top of the fish. Cover with the remaining rice. Top with a scattering of ‘rang’ which is the yellow powdered food color you get in south asian stores. Top with whole or chopped green chillies and cover and let cook on the lowest heat for 15 minutes.

Gently mix the fish masala and rice and squeeze the remaining half of the lemon over top. Serve with raita and achar.


8 thoughts on “Fish Biryani

  1. I’ve been searching for a good fish biryani recipe for too long, and it looks like you’ve nailed this one! I’m actually really interested in the dill in this recipe, because I’ve actually never encountered using dill in any Pakistani recipe.
    InshAllah I’ll give this a shot soon 🙂

    • Oh do try it! Would love to hear how it goes 🙂 Have you never had soya aalu? My inlaws also make a daal with dill in it, but I can’t seem to remember what all goes in there…

  2. I just tried this last week and it was very good! However, it was also quite spicy (but that might probably be because I used jalapenos instead of regular green chillies- I didn’t have any at the time). I also didn’t have onion seeds. But I added mint leaves along and a some cloves and whole black pepper. I wasn’t sure what to do with the yogurt (it was listed in the ingredients but not the recipe), so I added it after the tomatoes step. Thanks so much for sharing this, I was looking for more ways to incorporate fish into our food and this recipe really helps!

    • oh my! thanks for trying this – glad it turned out well even if it was a little spicy. also I realized recently when I remade it that I had forgotten to write in when to add the yogurt. Right after the tomatoes is perfect! thanks so much for reminding me. Next time I will add mint leaves as well, I am sure that makes it extra tasty

  3. thank you so much for this recipe! I tried for the first time last month and it turned out to be awesome! since I’m lactose intolerant I replaced yogurt with water but it was still a really rich and thick one ( I added some tomato paste )
    so here I go again for this recipe 🙂 thanks again!!

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