What unites Runs, Coronet and Kaanagam? Read this to find out !! Final part of my garam masala series

February 22nd, 2012

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

Anyone who studied at The Madras Catering in the 70s and 80s would remember that these were (and possibly still are) the best known places to eat when in Madras, especially when you were broke!

If you don’t believe me, ask Sriram, Murphy, Dexter, Praveen (these guys live in Australia today), and a thousand others will confirm this, “Yup,” they will say, “you bet!”

These foodie joints also had something else in common – they were all owned and operated by a community that comes from the west coast of India, known as the Malabar Coast.

These people are descendants of the Arab traders who traded in spices way before the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British came to this part of the world. They are called the Moplahs or the Mapillai, literally meaning the son-in-law or a person held in high esteem!

These people don’t just know their spices, they have created a wonderful cuisine called the Malabar Muslim Food!! Their pathiri and the muttai masala and the meen mulakkithattu and the chemeen . . . are to die for!!!

What memories! These were the best days of my life koi lauta de mere beetein huay din!!

But let’s get back to the food joints, Kaanagam was popular for a cup of chaaia (the best cup of tea you’ll ever have!), Runs made (the best) mutton korma with kerala parota and Coronet cooked (the best bl..dy) prawn and fish buryaani, and to top it all you could pay when you (or any of the above mentioned friends) had  the money. The only condition was that you had to be from Madras Catering!!

I am extremely happy that I got a taste of  some of the best Southern Indian food that one can find anywhere on the planet!

These restaurants were basic food joints with a table, a chair, a spoon, a fork and a glass tumbler and that is it.

There was a cashier counter, too, where the boss sat and counted his takings while keeping a close eye on all the operations!

This boss managed all the people who worked at the restaurant and the product took care of itself. Eating there was never a let down!

My relationship with Coronet restaurant began when a bunch of my seniors (Praveen, Dexter, and others), took me to the restaurant during the ‘initiation process’ (a.k.a mental disintegration process) that was customary at the college, and asked me to ‘wait’ at their table while they sat, chatted and happily enjoyed the fish buryaani.

I had to serve them, clear their table, wash their plates and cutlery and also settle the bill for them. How cool was that?!!

Well, not cool at all. In fact, it made me so angry and hungry (in both meanings of the word) that I promised myself that I would come back  some day  and treat myself to a buryaani when these seniors were at college.
I did get my chance but it was a complete disaster.

The owner managed to get in touch with Dexter who was still at college and asked him to come in immediately as there was a junior sitting at the table having his buryaani.

Now Dexter (who now lives in Melbourne) picked up Murphy (who also lives in Melbourne!) and drove straight down to Coronet just as I was about to have my first mouthful of the much awaited buryaani and they sat either side of me at the table.

So, forget about having the bur . . . ni, I ended up peeling onions and garlic for the chefs!

This was to be my first taste of a commercial kitchen and, believe it or not, I have lasted in one for over three decades!

Years later, when I finally got a chance in Mangalore  to learn this wonderful art of buryaani making I wasn’t going to miss it, no way!!

So, in an effort to make amends for that time, here’s the biryaani that I love to cook. It’s with prawns, or chemeen as they call them, which make a delicious biryani.

Please try it yourself and let me know what you think. If you’d prefer to see a one page version of the prawn biryani, click prawn biryani recipe.

So, before we begin, in summary here’s what we’ll be doing. (Don’t be put off by the 11 steps! A lot of the steps are very quick. Basically, from start to  “Okay, let’s eat!” is about 90 minutes.)

First: prepare our clay pot; 2) prepare the rice; 3) make prawn stock; 4) caramelise our red onions; 5) marinate then 6) sear the prawns; 7) make the biryani marinade(masala); 8) mix it together and bake in the oven. Whilst it’s baking away we get on with our accompaniments: 9) make our masala; 10) cook our pappadums (yes folks, these are bought!); 11) make our coconut chutney.Oh, and use the seafood garam masala (click garam masala blog for the seafood garam masala recipe).
That’s it. So, let’s get started.

Biryani recipe


Ingredients: clockwise, in the plate: oil, unsalted butter, salt, ginger paste, garlic paste, crushed coriander, crushed biryani garam masala, ground fresh chillies, turmeric powder, chilli powder, lemon juice. outer ring, clockwise: sliced red onions, sliced white onions, kari leaves, chopped coriander leaves, polished rice (sona masoori), shelled and de-veined fresh prawns

Special utensils

a clay pot will give a delicious, earthy flavour to the biryani

Preparing the clay pot and its lid

immerse both the lid and the pot in water and place 4 cm of water inside both the lid and the pot: this will ensure the clay pot doesn’t crack when it is in the oven

Cooking rice using the draining method

choose your rice

choose your rice: shown are sona masoori rice (top left) and basmati rice (top right). I could have used the longer grained basmati rice from the north, but chose to use the short grain sona masoori rice from the south because this is a southern style biryani!!

Soak your rice

Step 1

add 3 cups rice to mixing bowl n.b. do not wash the rice!

Step 2

add water until rice is covered with 2.5cm of water

Step 3

set aside – make sure you do not disturb the rice as it is absorbing the water – if you do disturb the rice it stops absorbing water evenly

Step 4

when the rice has risen to the surface, it is ready. n.b. the water will be clear as you didn’t wash the rice beforehand so the starch won’t have released, making the water cloudy

Step 5

drain rice

Cook your rice

Step 1

add plenty of water to saucepan and add 1/2 tsp salt when boiling, just like you would when boiling pasta

Step 2

add rice to boiling water

Step 3

stir rice continuously to prevent it from sticking

Step 4

rice will be al dente when it is at the surface and the froth has disappeared

Step 5

check rice is al dente – there should be a white ‘dot’ in the centre of the grain

Step 6

rain rice in colander

Step 7

remove water from clay pot and add half the rice

Preparing your prawn stock

Step 1

add coriander roots/stems and prawn shells to large saucepan – do not use prawn heads as this will make the stock too pungent

Step 2

add enough water so contents well covered

Step 3

bring water to boil and then simmer

Step 2

delicious, clear prawn stock will be ready in 10 minutes

Caramelising red onions

Step 1

heat 4 tbs polyunsaturated oil in shallow frying pan; when oil is smoking, add 2 tbs butter

Step 2

wait for the bubbles to disappear

Step 3

when butter has melted and there is no more froth, add 2 red onions and 1/2 tsp salt

Step 4

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caramelise onions – watch my video if you need instructions – don’t discard oils afterwards; leave it in the frying pan

Prepare prawns

Marinate prawns

Step 1

place prawns in mixing bowl and then add red chilli powderadd 1/2 tsp chilli powder to prawns

Step 2

add 1/2 tsp turmeric

Step 3

fold prawns in marinade

Sear prawns

Step 1

add 1/2 tsp salt to prawns – this is done just before they are seared to add flavour without dehydrating the prawns

Step 2

add 1/2 cup kari leaves to prawns and fold

Step 3

fold prawns so they are evenly seared

Step 4

add 1/2 tsp salt to prawns – this is done just before they are seared to add flavour without dehydrating the prawns

Step 5

prawns are perfectly seared when the marinade is golden and crusty

Step 6

remove prawns but don’t discard oil; leave it in frying pan

prepare biryani masala

Step 1

heat oil previously used to sear prawns; when smoking, add 2 sliced white onions, add 1 tbs salt and fold until golden

Step 2

add 1/2 cup kari leaves and fold

Step 3

add 2 tbs garlic paste and fold

Step 4

add 2 tbs ginger paste and fold

Step 5

add 2 tbs freshly ground coriander and fold

Step 6

add 11/2 tbs biryani garam masala and fold

Step 7

add 2 tbs green chilli paste and fold

Step 8

add 1 tbs turmeric

Step 9

add 2 tbs chilli powder and fold

Combine seared prawns, masala and prawn stock

Step 1

add seared prawns to masala and fold

Step 2

add 2 ladles (2 cups) of prawn stock and fold

Step 3

turn off heat

Step 4

add 1/2 cup lemon juice

Step 5

add 4 tbs chopped coriander

Cook biryani

Step 1

place the clay pot with rice in it near the stove

Step 2

place prawns on bed of rice

Step 3

when all the prawns are in the pot, they should cover the bed of rice and be evenly spread

Step 4

evenly distribute the remaining rice on top of prawns

Step 5

evenly distribute caramelised red onions on the bed of rice

Step 6

remove lid from water, place on pot and put pot in a cold oven (if the oven is hot to begin with, the pot will crack). Set oven temp. to 180C

Step 7

after approx. 45 minutes, using oven gloves, remove lid

Step 8

fold rice and prawns and add lemon juice

Step 9

serve with coconut chutney and masala pappadums (see below)

Accompaniment – Masala pappadums



1 cup diced red onions, 11/2 tsp salt and 1/2 cup chopped coriander

Step 1

add chopped red onions to mixing bowl

Step 2

add coriander

Step 3

add salt

Step 4

mix thoroughly

roasting pappadums


Step 1

without using any oil, place pappadums on hot flat surface such as a large frying pan

Step 2

using a tea towel, pat pappadums to keep them flat

Step 3

when the pappadum turns golden, turn over and repeat patting

Step 4

when they are cooked, layer them on top of one another

Adding masala to pappadums

Step 1

place a handful of masala on a pappadum

Step 2

repeat process, building a stack of pappadums as you go



Accompaniment – Coconut chutney

Ingredients: fresh grated coconut, sliced ginger and fresh coriander, without roots

add coriander and coconut to mixing bowl
add sliced ginger

blend with warm water – your chutney is ready

Well folks, this completes the long journey making our six garam masalas!! Please make any of the garam masalas for other dishes too. I’ll be returning to these masalas in the future.
I hope you have enjoyed reading it (and cooking it) as much as John and I have in bringing it to you!
Join us next week as we travel around this beautiful land called India and I will reveal some really unique VEG(AN)ETARIAN dishes for you to try!!
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!
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  1. D JS

    Anybody Still reading this blog.All right I must admit that I was a kid when we left the beautiful Malabar coast and even though father is a hundred food addict he never thought of cooking food in clay pots and that is why we did not manage to get the traditional cooking clay pot which is used for cooking fish . So even if you think this to be a non sequitur where did you get that clay pot with the casserole cover made of pure honest to goodness clay. I cannot get it here in North India for love or for money. We have our own traditional clay utensils which do not have any lids or covers. My kingdom for a casserole with a cover with apologies to Shakespeare and where do I buy it?. Please could somebody help!

  2. glivo

    Great. Thanks. Did you see my question about your Kebab GM? Would love a good kebab recipe to use it on.

  3. Ajoy Joshi

    Hi Greg
    Good to hear from you and great to know that you made the Prawn Biryani!!
    Will get back to you regarding the quantities of both turmeric and chilli.
    Happy cooking !!
    Kind regards

  4. glivo

    I made this dish last night in reduced quantity as there were only 2 of us and I still ended up with way too much. I used less than 2 cups of basmati rice, instead of 3, which turned to nearly 8 cups cooked. All other ingredients except the prawns were reduced to approximately half, ( I like prawns) and I also added a small amount of fish pieces. The dish turned out to be delicious. We ate less than half of it though along with some salad.
    But, I question the amounts of tumeric and chilli added to the masala pan in the recipe. Tablespoons (tbs) or Teaspoons (tsp)?
    I used only tsp measures (and reduced the quantity as well) as it didn’t look right to me and it was plenty. I used deggi mirch (Red Kashmiri) chilli.
    hope you can provide info here

  5. Ajoy Joshi

    Hello Deepak ,
    Great to hear from you and yes it is indeed ‘teaspoon’ !!
    Thanks for the ‘correction’,
    Happy cooking !!

  6. Deepak Shankaran

    Being a “Malabari” myself, I tried this out today, and it turned out great! However, just wanted to clarify the quantity of spices used. For example, the recipe specifies 2 tablespoons coriander powder, 1 tablespoon turmeric and 2 tablespoons chilli powder. We expected this to be on the higher side, and reduced the quantity. The end result still turned out to be a little on the higher side, especially the flavour of coriander. Everything else was perfect, save the quantity of spices used. Is the proportion correct? Did you mean teaspoons by any chance?

  7. Ashwathi Ashokan

    Ajoy inspired me to make my first ever biryani, for a first time attempt.. it wasnt too bad.. however something didnt go down well the first time around because i was being a little toooo careful and precise and forgot that cooking is supposed to be fun, the 2nd time around I had fun with the recipe and needless to say, it was fantastic.. i have made this recipe 4 times already and will be making this for vishu tooo 🙂 🙂 Thank you AJoy !! 🙂

  8. Divya Ramamoorthy

    Are you talking about the Coronot hotel in Adyar, Madras?
    Great post. The pictures complement your writing. You should become a storywriter. The best thing about your blog is that you make sure the reader does not stray and YOU get to decide where you take them next.

  9. K

    Re: pappadums
    I just microwave it straight on high for 1 minute and turns out pretty good. The exact duration to run the microwave may vary depending on how strong it really is. I would start with 30-45 seconds and then see how it turns out and adjust. Makes it very convenient to quickly make healthy “TV snack”.
    Just my $0.02

  10. Ajoy Joshi

    Hello Sagar, it seems you are finally getting there, just in time for the wedding!
    This is a beautiful cuisine and you will never get tired of cooking it!!
    Happy cooking,

  11. Sagar

    Can’t wait to try this!

  12. Anonymous

    Wow again Ajoy! always enlighted to read and see your demos.
    You make Cooking seem the most easiest thing in the world.But the dedication behind can only be yours!Will surely make it this weekend.
    Nice to know you again, Chef!
    Madhu Dubey

  13. Ajoy Joshi

    Hey Noohu,
    It brought back some great memories for me too, mate!!

  14. Ajoy Joshi

    Great to hear that this is on your ‘hit’ list.
    Please let me know your thoughts!

  15. Gulamrasool Noohu

    Hi Joshi !!
    Brought back sweet memories of Madras Catering days !
    I wonder how ‘Kanagam’ looks nowadays ??

  16. Spandana

    I will for sure make this.. may be not this week, but later.. bookmarked it!!! Thanks lot for sharing!

Comments are closed.


Garam Masalas