South African Recipes

Easy Chicken Breyani | A Proudly South African Recipe

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Hello, fellow food lovers! Today, we’re going on a delectable journey to the heart of South Africa’s culinary scene. We’re diving into the aromatic world of the South African Breyani, a hearty, soulful dish that has won countless hearts and tummies!

chicken breyani with veg and chicken leg

Chicken breyani

Gianpiero Rusconi
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Course Main Course
Cuisine South African
Servings 4 people


  • 1 Large heavy-bottomed pot
  • 1 Frying pan
  • 1 Sharp knife
  • 1 Wooden spoon


  • 500 g Boneless chicken thighs
  • 300 g Basmati rice
  • 2 large Finely sliced onions
  • 3 cloves Crushed garlic
  • 1 thumb-sized Piece of grated ginger
  • 2 large Diced tomatoes
  • 1 Finely chopped green chilli (Deseed the chilli if you don't like the burn that much)
  • 2 tbsp Breyani mix (Or substitute with curry powder)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • Salt & pepper (to taste)
  • 100 g plain yoghurt
  • 1 handful Fresh chopped coriander
  • 1 handful Fresh chopped mint
  • 50 g Slivered almonds
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp Saffron threads that are soaked in 2 tbsp hot water (This ingredient is optional)


  • Start by marinating the chicken. Mix the chicken pieces with the yoghurt, Breyani mix (or curry powder), salt, and pepper in a bowl. Set aside to marinate for at least 15 minutes, but the longer the better!
  • In your heavy-bottomed pot, heat up the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and chilli. Sauté until the onions are beautifully golden and fragrant.
  • Now, add in the marinated chicken pieces. Brown the chicken on all sides, making sure each piece is sealed and soaking up all those incredible flavours.
  • Once the chicken is browned, stir in the diced tomatoes, turmeric, and half of the coriander and mint. Turn down the heat, pop the lid on, and let this bubble away gently for about 30 minutes.
  • While that's happening, rinse your basmati rice under cold water until the water runs clear. This is a crucial step to ensure your rice is light and fluffy. Cook the rice as per the package instructions, but take it off the heat a bit early - you want the grains to be just slightly undercooked.
  • With the rice cooked and drained, it's time to assemble the breyani. Spread half the rice in a layer over the chicken in the pot. Sprinkle the saffron water (if using) over the rice for a bit of luxurious colour and flavour. Then, add the rest of the rice to the pot.
  • Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and let this simmer away on a low heat for about 15 minutes. This allows the flavours to meld together and the rice to fully cook in the rich, spiced sauce from the chicken.
  • Meanwhile, toast the slivered almonds in a dry frying pan until they're golden and crisp. This adds a wonderful crunch to your breyani.
  • When ready to serve, sprinkle the toasted almonds and the remaining fresh coriander and mint over the top of the breyani. Serve it straight from the pot - and enjoy the wonderful flavours of this traditional South African dish!
Keyword Chicken breyani

chicken breyani with rice and veg

Breyani History

The origins of Breyani, or Biriyani as it’s known elsewhere, trace back to the Indian subcontinent, with the dish arriving on South African shores through Indian immigrants. It has since firmly rooted itself in South African culinary tradition, particularly within the Cape Malay community. “Breyani” is derived from the Persian word “Birian”, which means “fried before cooking”. True to its name, Breyani involves frying rice, meat (in our case, chicken), and a blend of robust spices before layering them and allowing them to cook together. The name reflects the method!

Some claim that Breyani evolved from “pilaf”, a similar rice dish from the Middle East. Although this is conjecture, it adds a delightful depth to our understanding of Breyani’s rich lineage. For further reading, “The World of Spice” by Christine McFadden offers detailed insights.

Tips & Tricks

Having cooked countless Breyanis over the years, I have a few golden nuggets to share! First, marinating the chicken for a longer period really amps up the flavour – overnight is best. Secondly, don’t skip the rinsing of your basmati rice. It removes excess starch and ensures your rice is light and fluffy, not sticky. Lastly, the saffron is optional, but it truly elevates the dish. It lends a vibrant colour and a subtle, luxurious aroma that’s truly matchless. Remember, a little goes a long way!

Best Occasions to Serve Chicken Breyani

Breyani is a feast of flavours, perfect for celebrations and communal dining. From holiday gatherings to birthday feasts, it’s a dish that truly brings people together. It’s also a comforting winter warmer, ideal for a cosy family meal on a chilly night. And, it makes a delightful centrepiece for a South African themed dinner party!

Recipes & Sides That Go Well With Chicken Breyani

  • Sambals: A tangy tomato and onion salad that cuts through the richness of the Breyani.
  • Pickled fish: A traditional Cape Malay dish offering a sweet, sour, and spicy contrast.
  • Cucumber Raita: A cooling yoghurt-based side dish, perfect to soothe the palate.
  • Naan bread: Ideal for mopping up the succulent sauce left on your plate!

chicken biriyani with yellow veg

Ingredient Alternatives for Chicken Biriyani

  • Substitute chicken thighs with lamb or beef for a different flavour profile.
  • Vegans can swap the chicken for a mix of hearty vegetables like cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
  • If Breyani mix is not available, use a blend of cumin, coriander, turmeric, and garam masala.
  • For a healthier version, use brown rice instead of basmati.

Nutritional Facts

For a four-person portion, the nutritional content is as follows:

Calories: 600 kcal
Carbohydrates: 50g
Sugar: 5g
Fat: 25g
Protein: 40g
Fibre: 3g
In summary, Breyani is a moderately calorie-dense dish, offering high protein content and good amounts of fibre. The dish is balanced, with a fair share of carbs, protein, and fats. Moderation is key, of course, as with all hearty meals!

Troubleshooting Chicken Breyani (Common Problems)

  • Rice too sticky: Remember to rinse your rice thoroughly to remove excess starch.
  • Bland taste: Increase the marinating time, or add more spice mix.
  • Dry chicken: Ensure the pot is well sealed when simmering, to retain moisture.
  • Burnt bottom: Maintain a low heat when simmering the final dish.

Chicken Biriyani Alternatives and Similar Recipes

  • Pilau Rice: A one-pot East African rice dish loaded with meat and spices.
  • Paella: A Spanish dish with rice, meat, seafood, and vibrant saffron.
  • Jollof Rice: West African one-pot rice dish with vegetables and meat.
  • Cape Malay Curry: Another South African favourite with a burst of flavours!
  • Chicken Potjie: A South African stew dish that can be cooked with a fire or on the stove.

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