This Biryani-Style Roast Chicken Dinner Is My Go-To for Company

This biryani-style chicken is everything I want in a roast chicken dinner: juicy meat, fluffy rice, and tender vegetables, all perfumed with an incredible blend of toasted spices.

Overhead view of Biryani Style Roast Chicke
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

This biryani-style chicken is everything I want in a roast chicken dinner: juicy meat, fluffy rice, and tender vegetables, all perfumed with an incredible blend of toasted spices. To achieve this, I use an Hyderabadi-style biryani technique. It’s my go-to dinner party recipe, and I love that the whole meal roasts together in one skillet.

As a South Indian who grew up in Texas, for me “home food” was a mix of my family’s Tamilian cuisine and the culture we were immersed in as new immigrants. My roast chicken recipe highlights elements of both these cuisines: the Texan’s love of a big roast bird burnished in a cast iron skillet along with the spice profile and cooking technique of an Indian biryani.

Side view of Biryani Style Roast Chicken
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

What is Biryani

While Indian cuisine varies greatly from region to region, biryani transcends this regionality, and there are many iterations of it across India. Often reserved for special occasions and large gatherings, biryani is a celebration of aroma, color, and flavor that features perfectly cooked grains of spiced basmati rice and often times tender chunks of meat and/or vegetables. During the time of the Mughal Empire, the dish traveled throughout India, taking on aspects of various local cuisines. While I appreciate the many styles of biryani, the one I love most and incorporate into this recipe is Hyderabadi biryani. I was first introduced to this style by my father, who loves all biryani, but especially the Hyderabadi version. The roast chicken recipe I'm sharing here takes many cues from that South Indian specialty.

A few things that make Hyderabadi biryani unique are the simultaneous cooking of the meat—most often chicken or lamb that’s broken down into pieces—with the rice, its heavy use of spices, the sealing of the dish to promote steaming while cooking, a variety of textures in the final dish, and the specific fanfare in plating. I’ve incorporated many elements of this biryani style into my whole roast chicken recipe here. Read on for the full recipe and tips for making a beautifully browned and juicy biryani-style roast chicken with plump rice, earthy potatoes, and tender zucchini.

Tips for Making My Biryani-Style Roast Chicken

1. Add big flavor with a freshly toasted spice blend. Bold aromas and rich colors are very important for a good biryani, and most recipes incorporate spices and herbs, such as cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, dried red chiles, and cilantro, which imbue the meat with their aromas as the dish cooks. Here I switch out traditional Indian red chile peppers for a sweeter, denser pepper found in Texas: the Pequin chile. And instead of the anise that's commonly used in Hyderabadi biryani, I opt for allspice berries for a nuanced savory profile. For the best flavor, be sure to toast whole spices and then grind them yourself rather than using store-bought pre-ground spices. 

Overhead view of toasted spice blend
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

This recipe makes about double the amount of spice blend needed, but it stores well in an airtight container at room temperature, and you’ll be glad to have the extra spice blend already made for your next roast chicken or to add to simple roast vegetables or rice for another meal.

2. Ensure tender chicken with a yogurt-based marinade. I rely on the gentle tenderizing effect of lactic acid in this yogurt marinade to guarantee moist, juicy meat. Combine the chicken with the marinade and let it sit for at least two hours, but it will be even juicier and more well seasoned if left in the marinade overnight before roasting.

3. Add an ample amount of fresh vegetables. In a classic biryani the rice is the primary ingredient, but here I’ve decided to incorporate lots of vegetables, including potatoes, zucchini, and caramelized onions into the dish to make this a complete meal. Potatoes are a natural pairing with chicken, and I like how the squash melts into the rice as it cooks. 

Overhead view of adding veggies
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

4. Par-cook the basmati rice with chicken stock. It is standard practice to par-cook the basmati rice in biryani recipes, and I use this technique here. This ensures the rice is evenly cooked once it is combined and steamed with the vegetables and chicken to complete the dish. Instead of par-cooking the rice in water, here it’s simmered in chicken stock to add another layer of chicken flavor.

5. Cook in a cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. I grew up watching my family use tawas and vannas, and I realized later in life that cast iron skillets I used as a professional cook in kitchens in Texas are very similar to this traditional Indian cast-iron cookware. They share the same heft and great heat retention properties. My mother would always tell me that South Indian stews like sambhars and khozumbus taste better when cooked in a cast iron vanna, and I feel the same way about roasting chicken in a cast iron skillet. The superior heat retention of a cast iron skillet ensures a great initial sear on the chicken and that heat retention also helps properly cook the rice and vegetables, so everything cooks properly at the same rate.

Since it's abundant amount of vegetables, rice, and the whole chicken cooking all together, I recommend using a 14- or 16-inch cast iron skillet to accommodate everything. if you don't have a skillet this large, a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with a lid will also work well.

6. Spatchcock the chicken. Hyderabadi-style biryani traditionally steams the par-cooked rice with cut chunks of chicken or lamb for the final dish. I love how the juices from the meat permeate the rice when they're cooked together. Here the chicken is roasted whole, but spatchcocked for faster, more even cooking. The butterflied flat chicken allows for the rice and vegetables to be layered together in the style of biryani so the flavors all meld. 

7. Transfer to a platter for a great presentation. Once cooked, it's important to let the skillet or pot sit covered for 15 minutes to allow carry-over cooking to occur. At this point you could present the skillet table-side as-is, but I prefer to spoon the rice and vegetable mixture onto a serving platter and top with the spiced spatchcocked chicken. It’s a gorgeous presentation that showcases the layers of work put into it.

For saffron yogurt and potatoes: In a small metal or glass bowl or glass jar, add the saffron strands, yogurt and ghee and stir thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until yogurt is a rich golden color and infused with saffron flavor, 6 to 12 hours. 

Overhead view of seasoning yogurt marinade
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine 8 cups of cold water, 2 ½ tablespoons of salt, and the potatoes and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer, adjusting heat as needed to maintain simmer, until the potatoes are fork tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain potatoes and using a fork, prick each potato all over, then transfer to a large metal or glass bowl. Add the prepared saffron yogurt and stir to combine; set aside until ready to use or refrigerate for up to 10 hours.

Four image collage of cooking potatoes
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

For the biryani spice mix: Meanwhile, in a small stainless-steel skillet or sauté pan over medium heat and working with one spice at a time, toast allspice berries, cloves, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, Pequin peppers, cardamom, fennel, coriander, cumin, and caraway until just warm and fragrant, taking care not to burn the seeds. (The cumin, caraway, and fennel seeds will start to jump in the pan as they finish cooking.) Transfer each spice to the same mixing bowl as it is done. In a high-powered blender or spice grinder, or using a mortar and pestle, combine all toasted spices. Grind into a coarse powder, similar to coarsely ground pepper. Stir in the nutmeg and store at room temperature in an airtight jar until ready to use.

Four image collage of toasting spices
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

For the chicken and marinade: In the now-empty small stainless-steel skillet, lightly toast the bay leaf over medium heat until color darkens slightly and fragrant, about 30 seconds. In a large bowl, whisk 1½ tablespoons of the prepared biryani spice mix, yogurt, chile peppers, garlic, ginger, ghee, jaggery, honey, salt, and lime juice until well combined. Fold in the mint and cilantro to combine; set aside.

Two image collage of making marinade
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

Spatchcock the chicken: Using sharp kitchen shears, remove backbone. Flatten chicken by placing skin side up on a cutting board and applying firm pressure to breastbone.

Place the spatchocked chicken in a baking dish, large zip-top bag, or a food-safe storage container with a lid. Pour the prepared yogurt marinade all over the chicken. Add the bay leaf, then gently rub the marinade into the chicken to coat well. Cover the container or seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight up to 12 hours.

Two image collage of rubbing marinade on chicken
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

For the biryani: Adjust the oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 425℉ (220℃). In a fine-mesh strainer, rinse the rice under running cold water until the water runs clear. Shake off excess water and transfer the rinsed rice to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of chicken stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until rice is par-cooked and most of the stock is absorbed, 10 minutes. 

Overhead view of cooking rice
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

In 14- or 16-inch cast iron skillet or large Dutch oven, add 2 tablespoons oil and ghee and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally until softened and beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Lower heat to medium low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until onions are reduced by about half in volume and are fully softened and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. If onions begin to char before fully softened, add a tablespoon of water as needed during cooking. Transfer to a bowl and set the skillet aside.

Overhead view of cooking onions
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

In the now-empty cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. Remove the chicken from the marinade and carefully place the chicken, breast side down, into the skillet and reduce heat to medium. The chicken should immediately sizzle. Add half of the reserved cooked onions around the chicken. Arrange the zucchini slices on top and around the chicken in an even layer, followed by the yogurt-dressed potatoes. Carefully uncover the par-cooked rice, (the stock should mostly be absorbed by the grains), and with a spoon, mound the rice on top of the vegetables and around the chicken. Remove the skillet or Dutch oven from heat. 

4 image collage of overhead view of assembling in pan
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

Arrange the remaining cooked onions on top of the rice. If needed, use a wooden spoon to rearrange the top layer of rice so it covers the vegetables and chicken in an even flat layer. This creates a seal for the chicken with the rice, vegetables, and onions. Cover with either a heavy lid or aluminum foil (it will be extremely hot so cover carefully). Transfer the covered skillet to the oven and bake until the chicken breasts register 155℉ with an instant read thermometer and the rice is fully cooked, about 1 hour. (You will need to push the thermometer through the rice mixture to insert into the chicken.)

Overhead view of wrapped chicken
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

For serving: Slowly unseal the skillet or Dutch oven, from one corner first to let the steam out away from you. Let rest for 15 minutes, then, using a large spoon, transfer the cooked rice and vegetables to a large serving platter. Using tongs and a large wooden spoon or spatula, transfer the chicken to top the rice and vegetables. (Don’t worry if a leg or wing falls off—you can arrange it artfully on your platter.) Squeeze the lime all over the chicken and rice and sprinkle with the cilantro. Carve the chicken at the table and serve with the hot rice and vegetables. Serve with a side of cucumber raita, shorba gravy, or just as-is. 

Overhead view of squeezing lime
Serious Eats / Kanika and Jatin Sharma

Special Equipment

14- or 16-inch cast iron skillet or large Dutch oven, spice grinder or pestle and mortar


Jaggery can be found at any local Desi food store in your area, with options of powdered or in a mound that you can shave with a sharp knife. If unavailable, you can substitute coconut sugar for the jaggery.

If Pequin chile peppers are unavailable, chile de árbol or Tien Tsin chiles can be substituted.

Store the marinated chicken in a non-reactive container made of glass or ceramics, or a large plastic bag.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The spice mix can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

The caramelized onion can be prepared and refrigerated in an airtight container up to 3 days ahead.

The cooked potatoes tossed with the saffron yogurt can be refrigerated for up to 1 day before you assemble and cook the final dish.

Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.