How to make South Indian (Chennai-style) Mutton Biryani


South Indian biryani, especially that made in Chennai is different from the Awadhi (Lucknow), Mughlai (Delhi) and Hyderabadi biryanis. This is how biryani is traditionally made in Tamil Nadu. You will find it served at weddings and feasts that call for celebrations.

Biryani in Tamil Nadu is very different from the biryanis prepared in different regions of the North. The latter is traditionally light, fluffy and mildly flavoured. South-style biryani, on the other hand, makes use of a whole range of spices and herbs and is more like a pulao. When I first tasted biryani in Chennai I was taken aback at how different it looked and tasted. My senses had rebelled, refusing to accept the dish to be biryani. Over a period of time, I accepted it as a different version of biryani. Nevertheless, the southern-style biryani is rather delectable and makes quite an appetising meal.

I learnt the art of making Chennai-style biryani from my MIL. Festivals and special occasions called for home-cooked biryani. She was an expert at preparing huge quantities of biryani, for her brood, and always set a big deg on a makeshift firewood chulla, which was set up in the backyard.



The biryani cooked over firewood enhanced its taste and aroma. Since, I do not have the pleasure of a front yard, leave alone one at the back, I make the biryani on a regular gas burner. The good thing about this biryani is that it is quick to make. Technically, it is a pulao, but I prefer to call it biryani, the way it is referred to in this region.

Interestingly, this is what is served at Christian and Muslim weddings, in Chennai. It is made at every special occasion that calls for a celebration. So, I won't write it off. I recently made Chennai-style goat meat (mutton biryani) and my whole house was filled with the lovely aromas. I follow the same procedure for chicken, lamb and fish biryani.

How to make Mutton Biryani (Goat meat or lamb) - Tamil Nadu Style

Ingredients for the biryani


The ingredients are split into two categories, as they are required separately, during the cooking process.

Ingredients list no:1 – Masalas


  • 1 big onion finely diced
  • 3-4 green chillies finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1" cinnamon piece
  • 3-4 green cardamom
  • 6-8 cloves
  • 2-3 star anise

Ingredients list no:2 for the Biryani


  • 1 tumbler basmati rice
  • ¾ kg mutton (I prefer chops)
  • 1 big onion finely chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes finely diced
  • 1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste
  • A few sprigs of fresh mint
  • A few sprigs of fresh cilantro (green coriander)
  • 1 tsp. chilli powder
  • 2tsp. coriander powder
  • ½ tsp. turmeric powder
  • ½ cup yoghurt
  • Oil – 1 ladle
  • Salt to taste
  • Water
  • Aluminium foil or dough

Method for making biryani

Soak the rice in water for 15-20 minutes or as directed on the packet. While the rice is soaking grind together the ingredients listed under the first list. You need to grind the ingredients into a coarse paste.

Next heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and fry the onions until they turn light brown in colour. Add the chopped tomatoes to the onions and cook until they turn soft and mushy and the oil begins to separate. We want the onions and tomatoes to become one paste.

Add the coarsely ground masala, turmeric powder and a little water, to the pot and fry on high flame for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously. Once the masala is fried it will exude a nice aromatic fragrance. Drop the meat pieces into the pot and mix well, ensuring that all the meat pieces get covered in the masala.

You now need to fry the meat. Keep the flame on high and give the meat pieces a vigorous stir for 2-3 minutes. The meat will release its juices as its being cooked. At this point, lower the flame and add the rest of the ingredients from the second list and mix them well into the meat.

Cook the meat for a few more minutes, until all the water dries up and the oil separates. The meat should be almost dry at this point.

While the meat is frying, bring 2 tumblers of water to a boil in another pan. Transfer the hot water into the pot with the meat, keep the flame on low. Meanwhile, drain the water from the rice and add the rice to the pot with the meat.

Add salt to taste and cover and cook, for 8-10 minutes, on low flame. Don't cover the pot fully. You need to cook the rice until it is al dente (semi-cooked). At this stage cover the pot fully and use the dough to seal the lid, alternately cover the pot with aluminium foil, ensuring that it covers the pot completely.

Giving dum to the biryani

Simultaneously, place a heavy (preferably iron) griddle on another burner and heat it. Transfer the pot with the rice and meat on the griddle to begin the dum process. Cook the biryani on dum on low flame for approximately 10 minutes for the Chennai mutton biryani to be ready to be served.

Garnishing and Serving

In the South, biryani is always served along with a boiled egg. You can garnish it with whole boiled eggs if you wish. I don't serve eggs with the biryani. You can also serve onion raita, brinjal pachadi and papad, along with the biryani. I prefer to have my biryani without accompaniment, and so don't bother making those extras.

Southern-style Biryani

Most people in Tamil Nadu, that I know, follow a similar procedure for making biryani, with minor changes. However, biryani served in hotels in Chennai can be slightly different. The most popular biryanis in Tamil Nadu come from Dindigul and Ambur. They are distinctly different from the recipe provided here. The rice used for the preparation of these biryanis is grown locally, it is a special kind of small-grained rice.

Know your food


The food that you eat must provide proper nutrition and it helps to know the nutrients that you are putting into your body. I believe keeping a check on the nutrition quotient of foods is a good way to control what you eat. You end up making healthier choices. So, here is a brief lowdown on what's packed in this wholesome biryani.



  • Basmati rice - It is undoubtedly one of the most flavourful and aromatic grains of rice. And the long grains are an added plus. Choose old rice over new rice, it tastes better. Basmati is lower in carbs than most other rice. It provides trace amounts of potassium, calcium and iron
  • Mutton (goat meat) - Like all meats, it is a good source of animal protein. It is red meat, but if you choose grass-fed meat, it is a healthier option. Mutton is less fatty and if you choose chops, you
  • Spices - The spices not only enhance the flavour and aroma of the biryani, but they also provide vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and essential oils. They are also excellent antioxidants

Have you cooked or eaten a southern-style biryani? Try this Chennai-style biryani, it is different. And do leave your feedback in the comments section.


Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

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