Kerala Chicken Ishtu

Chicken stew with coconut milk, ginger, curry leaves and chillies


There is nothing like a warming bowl of stew for a cold evening. My recipe for a Kerala style Chicken stew is perfect to bring warmth and spice. Coconut milk, whole spices and fresh herbs including coriander, chillies and curry leaves make this stew or ‘ishtu’ (as its known in southern India) so very delicious. This is one I’ve grown up eating and though it’s not often you’ll be able to slurp down a bowl in your local Indian it most definitely worth making it at home.

This is a really simple version and one thats perfect with just a few spices. Its a one pot dish and a soupy broth like consistency which I savour with some dosa. You can swap the chicken for vegetables or turkey even. If you prefer a thicker creamier curry make sure to lessen the quantity of water and coconut milk slightly and simmer without the lid at the end. Finish the dish with fresh herbs and serve with rice, soft dosas or some flaky paratha.


  1. Using a blender, make a fine smooth paste of the white onion and the garlic cloves with 30mls water to help.

  2. Heat oil in a deep sauté pan over medium heat; add the green chilli, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves and half the curry leaves. Fry until the spices crackle for a few seconds. Add the onion-garlic paste and cook for 5 minutes to lose the raw flavour. Add the chicken pieces and mix well, sauté to seal them on all sides for a further 8-10 minutes stirring well. Sprinkle the black pepper powder and mix well.

  3. Add water, season to taste and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat with a lid on for 25-30 minutes until the chicken is cooked. Make sure to stir half way through making sure it’s not too dry. Add a touch more water only if required. Now pour in the coconut milk and let it simmer away for a further 8 minutes with the lid on.keralan-chicken-stew-2

  4. Garnish with fresh ginger, chilli, coriander and remaining curry leaves. Serve warm stew with soft dosas or paratha.

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