How to make leftover turkey biryani – with pictures!

I love making Thanksgiving dinner. I also love having leftovers the next day, and having even more leftover turkey that I can portion out and freeze to remix into something completely not Thanksgiving related. This year, I went with leftover turkey biryani, and you know what? It was delicious.

How to make biryani with leftover turkey

Inspired by this and this.


  • 2 c yogurt – divided into about 1/c and the rest
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • About 1/4 c ginger, chopped
  • 2 T garam masala
  • 1 t cumin
  • Dash on cayenne
  • Splash of lemon juice
  • 8-10 oz leftover turkey (or roasted chicken)
  • 1/2-3/4 c chopped dried apricots
  • 1/4 c barberries (these are yummy and distinctive, but you could totally remove these in favor of more apricots, or use something like raisins, dried cranberries, etc.)
  • Pinch of saffron (I know, this shit is expensive! Leave it out if you want, but it does offer a unique flavor you can’t get anywhere else)
  • 1 lg onion, thinly sliced (I cut it in half and then made half moons)
  • 3 c turkey stock
  • 2 c basmati rice
  • 2 t cumin seeds
  • 1 t coriander seeds
  • 1 t brown mustard seeds (or use yellow! doesn’t matter. you could also probably make this without them.)
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 serrano, chopped
  • 1 T honey
  • 4 T melted butter
  • Salt & pepper
  • Butter/ghee/neutral oil (your call – though you’re going to need at least enough neutral oil to fry the onions)


  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Chopped pistachios


You’re also going to need several bowls and approximately 847 pans/pots. Really through, you will at least need the following, though this will have you wiping out / washing numbers 1 and 3.

  1. 1 pan with tall sides / small cast iron dutch oven – for the onion and turkey, and then yogurt
  2. 1 small-medium pot (enough to cook 2 c rice)
  3. 1 medium-large dutch oven or pot with a lid


Step 1: (YES this is one of those recipes that’s going to have steps, if the ingredient and equipment list didn’t tip you off. If that’s not your thing, totally fair. Sometimes I like to make complicated dishes because it relieves my stress and I enjoy it. But I know it’s not everyone’s jam.)

Mix the 1/4 c yogurt with all the ingredients through leftover turkey and let that marinade for about 30 minutes.

Boil some water and cover your dried fruit with it, then let that sit also for about 30 minutes.

marinating turkey in yogurt and soaking rehydrating dried fruit

While those are hanging out …

Step 2: In the pan with tall sides, fry the onion in about 1 inch of vegetable oil. I try to keep the oil around 325-250 degrees. Just keep an eye on things. When it’s nicely golden brown, drain on a few rounds of paper towel and sprinkle with salt immediately. (Here I had some leftover fried shallots from green bean casserole, so I tossed those in, too.)

homemade fried onions

Step 3: In your small-medium pot, cook rice in stock according to your standard procedure, but stop it when it’s al dente. For me, this means the rice and stock go in a pan together, come to boil, and simmer on VERY low heat with the top on for 12-14 minutes. If you have leftover liquid, drain it. Remove the rice from heat immediately so it doesn’t keep cooking.

Step 4: Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Step 5: In your medium-large dutch oven or pot, toast the saffron over medium heat BUT ONLY FOR A FEW SECONDS. Like 30. Don’t be like me and forget about it and burn that expensive little pinch of flower stigmas and styles. Take the saffron swiftly out of the pan and let it cool in a little dish.

In that same cooking vessel, put a little oil/ghee/butter over medium heat and add your cumin, coriander, and mustard seeds.

toasting cumin coriander and mustard seeds


When then start to pop, add in drained dried fruit, the rest of your yogurt, and about 1 c of water. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn off heat when done. Add the saffron and stir.

Step 6: Drain the oil from your onion pan (save it! It’s good!) and wipe it out so only a small amount of oil remains. Then over medium-ish heat, sautee your serrano quickly, and then add in your marinated turkey (plus all the marinade, spices, etc.). Heat through, add the tomato paste and honey, and stir to combine. Add the yogurt mixture to this. Taste and adjust seasonings as you see fit.

turkey yogurt dried fruit and spice mixture for biryani

Step 7: Clean your OG yogurt pot / dutch oven. This will be our cooking vessel for the layered biryani.

Step 8: Layer your turkey biryani!

  • Brush the biryani pot / dutch oven with with a little melted butter.
  • Put 1/2 of the turkey-yogurt mix into the pot.
  • Drizzle with about 1T of the butter.
  • Top with 1/2 the fried onion.
  • Then 1/2 the rice.
  • Then another 1T butter.
  • Repeat with the rest of the turkey-yogurt mixture, 1 T butter, rest of the onion, rest of the rice, rest of the butter.

layering leftover turkey biryani

Put foil on top of the pot and cover with its lid. Bake in oven about 15 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through.

To serve: There’s apparently a way to be fancy and put a plate over your pot and invert the whole thing. I’m not coordinated enough for that, so I just scoop out some biryani, ensuring to get all the layers, and put it in a bowl. Then top with toppings as desired.

leftover turkey biryani in bowl

Not your thing? Here’s another dish using leftover turkey: Turkey-kimchi fried rice.

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