Ajwain ki macchi biryani (Fish biryani with carom seeds)

This is a spicy and tangy fish biryani and I will call this Ajwain ki macchi biryani (fish biryani with carom seeds) as ajwain or carom seeds is an important ingredient in this biryani. I have used ajwain in the fish marinade and also while making the gravy. A little extra care is required while cooking fish biryani in general as fish is very delicate. As with any biryani, this fish biryani also tastes good.

I came across this recipe in a food show made by chef Mehboob. I have made slight changes to this. This fish biryani is spicy, the flavour and taste are quite different. This is because of the use of ajwain in the marinade and gravy and also the use of tamarind paste, which is unusual. You can add dill leaves if you want as I did in my other fish biryani recipes. I always use spices and ingredients according to my taste and my liking.

You can use king fish (vanjaram in Tamil), koduva (in Tamil), sea bass, tilapia, pomfret or any firm fish you like. I have used pomfret fish in this recipe as it is easy to get rid of the bones while eating. You can use boneless fish also.


  1. Fish (pomfret fish) – 600 to 700 gms
  2. Ajwain and cumin masala

  3. Ajwain (carom seeds) – 1 tbsp
  4. Cumin seeds – 1 tbsp
  5. Marinade

  6. Ginger and garlic paste – 1 tbsp
  7. Chilli powder – 2 tsp
  8. Roasted ajwain and cumin masala – 1/2 of it
  9. Lemon juice – 2 tbsp
  10. Gravy

  11. Oil – 1/2 cup
  12. Onion (medium size) – 4 to 5
  13. Black cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
  14. Black cardamom – 2
  15. Bay leaves - 2
  16. Cloves – 3
  17. Green cardamom – 3
  18. Cinnamon stick – 1 inch
  19. Black pepper corns – 1/2 tsp
  20. Tomatoes (paste) – 3
  21. Ginger and garlic paste – 1 tbsp
  22. Coriander powder (optional) – 2 tbsp
  23. Chilli powder – 1 tbsp
  24. Turmeric powder – 3/4 tsp
  25. Garam masala – 1 tsp
  26. Curd – 1 cup
  27. Tamarind paste – 2 to 3 tsp
  28. Mint – 3/4 cup (a handful)
  29. Coriander leaves – 1/2 cup
  30. Green chillies (slit) – 5
  31. Water – 1cup
  32. Kewra water – 3 tbsp
  33. Salt - as required
  34. Layering/garnishing

  35. Colour – 2 pinches
  36. Lemon juice – 5 tbsp
  37. Mace and javithri powder (optional) – 2 pinches
  38. Mint – 1/2 cup
  39. Kewra water – 3 tbsp
  40. Coriander leaves (roughly chopped) – 1/3 cup
  41. Rice

  42. Basmati rice – 2 1/2 to 3 cups
  43. Black cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
  44. Cloves – 2
  45. Green cardamom – 2
  46. Cinnamon sticks – 2 inches
  47. Salt - as required
  48. Water to boil



  1. Marinate the fish with all the marinade ingredients including salt as per taste and keep it in the fridge for 4 hrs to overnight.

Frying fish

  1. Take the marinated fish from fridge 1/2 hr before cooking.
  2. Use the same vessel (big enough for making biryani) in which you want to cook the gravy for frying the fish as well.
  3. Add oil and when it gets hot add fish pieces one by one and shallow fry them.
  4. Fry the fish on medium heat and do not turn the fish immediately. You can drizzle some more oil if required.
  5. When all the fish pieces are cooked well on both sides, take them out and keep them aside. Fry the fish in batches. Turn them carefully as they can easily break.

Cooking the gravy

  1. Cook the gravy in the same vessel as you fried the fish. The idea is to get as much flavour of fish into the gravy as possible.
  2. Add onions in the remaining oil. Top up oil if required.
  3. Add whole spices and stir it for about 3 seconds.
  4. Add onions and fry until it is soft and brown. It will take about 10 to 12 mins. You can close the lid and cook.
  5. When the onions are cooked well, take 1/4 of onions and keep it aside for garnishing and use the rest 3/4 for gravy.
  6. Add ginger and garlic paste to the fried onions and stir for a few seconds.
  7. Add chilli powder, turmeric, coriander powder, remaining roasted masala (ajwain and cumin) and tomato paste (tomatoes ground to a paste).
  8. Mix all the ingredients well. Add about 1/3 cup of water if it is very thick.
  9. After roasting for a few minutes add mint, coriander leaves, curd, garam masala and the remaining water. Mix well and cook.
  10. When all the ingredients are cooked well and the ingredients are roasted well, the gravy starts to leave oil.
  11. Close the lid and cook for a few minutes on medium heat until you get to a thick gravy consistency. It will take about 7 to 10 mins.
  12. Add tamarind paste, kewra water, salt and mix well. Again if it is very thick you can add a little water as required for the biryani.
  13. Add fish pieces and green chillies to the gravy. Simmer with the lid closed for about 10-15 mins. You can see that the gravy has got to a good consistency with oil on top. The consistency should be such that it is enough to mix with rice.
  14. Take the fish pieces with a little bit of gravy and keep it aside.
  15. Taste and see if you require any spice or salt and adjust accordingly.

Cooking rice

  1. Cook the rice about 3/4 when the gravy is almost ready and keep it aside.
  2. You can cook the rice in advance as well.
  3. Boil the rice with the other ingredients. When it is 3/4 cooked, strain it and keep it aside. You can rinse with cold water if you want. While the rice is boiling do not stir very often. In doing so, the grains can get broken. Add required amount of salt.
  4. I have not added the whole spices. It is optional. You can add a little oil so that the grains do not stick to each other while cooking.


  1. Add the rice to the gravy. Spread the rice evenly and keep some rice for further layering.
  2. Add the fish pieces, fried onions and a few mint and coriander leaves. Arrange it evenly.
  3. Pour the remaining gravy, then all the rice on top. Sprinkle colour, fried onions, mint and coriander leaves, lemon juice and kewra water, all evenly.

Simmering and mixing

  1. Close the lid tightly and simmer for 20 to 25 mins or until the rice is cooked.
  2. After you switch off let the biryani rest for 10 to 15 mins. If you want you can serve immediately as well.
  3. Open the lid and take the biryani out with a wide spoon.
  4. You need to be careful while mixing. Mix it from the bottom to top slowly from one side. Then cover all sides.
  5. As soon as you open the lid you can smell the full flavour and aroma from the biryani.
  6. This biryani is spicy and tastes good. It goes well with raitha or brinjal curry.
  7. I have served it with fried fish and raitha.


  1. If the bottom of the utensil is thick the rice will not burn while simmering. You can keep a flat tava below the vessel and simmer it to avoid the burning of rice. This is as good as having a vessel with thick bottom.
  2. Aluminium utensils are good as roasting can be done well.
  3. Use only a wooden spoon to stir the spices if you are using a non-stick vessel.
  4. You can reduce the chillies if you do not eat spicy food or your chillies are very hot.
  5. Rice should be only 3/4 cooked. The grain might have become longer than its usual size, but when pressed with your fingers you should feel it is still not cooked fully.
  6. While cooking the rice you can add a few drops of oil or vinegar. While draining wash the rice under cold water. All this to keep the rice grains separate and prevent them from sticking to each other.
  7. You can fry the fish in tava or even deep fry the fish. Then you can add the fish to the gravy.
  8. The gravy quantity should be such that it should be enough for the rice when you mix it.
  9. If you want to reduce the oil, go ahead. But the onion has to be roasted well in oil or ghee.
  10. Add salt with care to the gravy and rice. Divide the salt quantity and add them to the rice and gravy. It will be easier that way.
  11. Whenever I grind ginger and garlic to make the ginger and garlic paste, I grind it with whole spices. View my ginger and garlic paste recipe.
  12. You can add aloo bhukhara (dried prunes), potatoes and dill leaves (soya leaves) also for a change.
  13. For the gravy, I have used water as per requirement. Do not use much.
  14. Add tamarind paste according to your taste
  15. Mix colour with 2 tbsp of water or with milk and put on rice. Saffron can be used instead of colour. You can even directly sprinkle over the biryani.
  16. Add lemon juice and kewra water according to your taste as sometimes lemon can be very sour.
  17. Whenever you cook biryani, use equal amounts of fish and rice or may be even 1 kg fish for 500 to 700 gms of rice.