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Fish Biryani

Fish Biryani

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I must have called my mom only about the hundreth time asking her how to cook Fish Biryani. My hubby swears that only she could cook it the best and no matter how many times I tried it was never good enough. So you can imagine the joy I felt today when he told me that mine tasted exactly like my moms…phew I finally passed the test. Well that is until I make it the next time!

Mother’s never have any measurements, everything gets dumped into a pot and it’s cooked. It will be the best thing on earth but don’t ever ask for the recipe because you won’t get an exact one. I called my mum asking for the recipe and she says “add a little extra cumin”, so I say how much is extra and then I ask can I add any other spice and she says “add a little ground dhania”, which is coriander. What a mission, eventually I said “Ma, can you please tell me if I need a teaspoon or a tablespoon”  and then I was finally getting somewhere…Lol!

Fish Biryani is not so difficult to cook but it is about getting the balance of spices right. And trust me to make it delicious you need a little grease, not that I am fond of too much oil in my cooking but this time I took that chance and added a little more. I suppose it’s why I passed the test.

In an Indian home Fish Biryani is only cooked with fresh fish, straight from the sea into the pot. Ok, I am kidding, not anymore. But it used to be that way. We are lucky to get some fresh line fish every once in a while.  You can however, use any fish you prefer.

It is best to use Basmati Rice for any Biryani and a good quality one. Due to lockdown I haven’t had a chance to puchase Basmati Rice. I am quite fussy about the brand I use so I will have to wait until I can get to the shops. Here in Johannesburg there are limited shops that stock good quality Basmati Rice. So I had to settle for long grain rice. Still tasted great!

There are lots of different ways to cook Fish Biryani. I think my mom’s recipe is a little unusual in the fact that she uses tomatoes. Most recipes do not call for tomatoes. It is cooked with spices and yogurt. 


Fish Biryani, like most other Biryanis is best served with Raita. If you do try this recipe please drop me a comment, always love hearing from you!

More Biryani Recipes:

Oven-Baked Chicken Biryani

South African Vegetable Biryani

Fish Biryani in a black pot
Print Pin
5 from 4 votes

Fish Biryani

Aromatic layered dish with tender pieces of fish and rice
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Keyword fish biryani, south african fish biryani
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings 4



  • 500 gram fish about 8 small pieces
  • 1 tsp ginger/garlic paste
  • 1 tbsp masala
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt


  • 1 cup long grain or basmati rice
  • 2 pieces cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves
  • salt
  • egg yellow food colouring

Fish Biryani

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 onion finely chopped
  • 1 sprig curry leaf
  • 2 green chillies
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground soomph/fennel
  • 2 tsp masala or chilli powder
  • 4 large roma tomatoes skim removed and pureed
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • Handful mint leaves chopped
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 boiled eggs (optional)



  • Marinate the fish with the masala, ginger garlic paste, cumin, salt and lemon juice for and refrigerate for an hour


  • Rinse the rice well. Cover the rice with water, add the cinnamon stick, bay leaf, cardamom pods, cloves and salt. Cook until the rice is half cooked. Drain the excess water, sprinkle some egg yellow food colouring on top of the rice, cover and set aside
  • When the rice is ready to be used you will fluff the rice with a fork so you will get a few different shades of rice


  • Fry one large onion, finely chopped, until golden brown and crisp, in about half a cup of oil and drain on paper towel
  • To cook the biryani add a quarter cup of the oil, used for the onion, to a large pot. Sear the fish on both sides, just a few seconds each until it browns a little on the edges. Do not cook it too long as it will cook further in the oven
  • In the same oil add one small onion, finely chopped together with the thyme, curry leaf and green chilli. Fry until the onion is golden brown. Peel and smash the 2 cloves of garlic, add it to the pot and fry for a minute
  • Add the spices, turmeric, masala, cumin, coriander and fennel. Fry for at least 2 minutes. Add a few drops of water if required
  • Add in the pureed tomatoes and any excess marinade from the fish. Season with salt. Add the chopped mint leaves. Cover and simmer until the tomatoes are cooked, about 10-15 minutes. If it gets too dry you can add a little bit of water
  • Remove half the tomato mixture and place in a bowl. Layer half the fish on top of the tomato mixture in the pot. Fluff up the rice with a fork and place half the rice on top of the fish . Spread the other half of the tomato mixture on top of the rice. Layer the remaining fish and boiled eggs (if using) on top. Sprinkle the rice on top. Scatter the onion on top of the rice. Cut the butter into little cubes and "tuck" it into the rice. Pour a cup of warm water over the biryani and cook in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the rice is tender. If the biryani dries up before the rice is cooked you can add a little more water


  1. Depending on where you live you may need less water, altitude does play a role in the amount of cooking time required. On the coast the biryani may cook in 30 minutes and thus requiring less water
  2. You cam double the recipe if you want a larger quantity
  3. If you not keen on all the frying you can omit the fried onion although it does enhance the flavour of the biryani
  4. You an also add fried potatoes to the biryani should you wish


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Recipe Rating

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Muhammad Ameen

Friday 25th of February 2022

Made the Fish Biryani today, using Hake and Salmon portions. Tasted divine! Added Fried Potato Slices and Served With Dahi & Rice Paaper... 😋👌


Friday 4th of March 2022

Thank you so much for the feedback. Glad you enjoyed it:-)


Saturday 6th of November 2021

Never made fish biryani..looking forward to it...


Saturday 9th of October 2021

Planning on making a fish briyani tomorrow... I love lentils in a briyani, so going to incorporate them somehow... Will base my recipe on yours and let's hope it's a winner! As a Jhb boy too, we take what we get when it's fresh fish.. Found some decent looking 'salmon' at Mr B N's so hope it does the job... 😅


Wednesday 13th of October 2021

Hope your cooking was a success:-)


Wednesday 7th of July 2021

Wow!! Absolutely amazing! Your recipes are my go to when in doubt!! So simple and easy to follow with fantastic results!! Thank you 🙏🏽


Friday 23rd of July 2021

Thank you so much Channell:-)

Kimberley K

Sunday 10th of January 2021

Hi Lorraine, Thank you for the amazing recipe. My first attempt at making breyani and it was delicious! Definitely making this again :)


Sunday 10th of January 2021

Thank you so much Kimberley. I am so glad you enjoyed the recipe. Isn't it great when it works out the first time! Take Care:-)

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