Keralan 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.

  • Anne-Marie

    For how many person is this? 1.2 kg chicken seems so much…

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      Its perfect for 4 people as a main course.

  • Corinne Lebens

    Is it the green chile slit lengthwise that gets fried with the whole spices at the beginning, and the thinly sliced green chile that gets added at the end as a garnish, or is it the other way around? For the thinly sliced green chile, should it be sliced into julienne strips, or from the other direction into thin circles? I have all the ingredients and am looking forward to trying this soon!

  • Corinne Lebens

    I had a question about this recipe, even after carefully reading it multiple times, took the time to comment, and was informed by Disqus that my comment had been removed. How rude!

  • Somya Chhabra

    Can the onions be finely chopped instead of blended?

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      Yes ofcourse! Just make sure to cook them until they soften.

  • Chloe Chatburn

    Do we need fresh curry leaves or are dried fine? Can’t wait to try this it looks amazing!

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      Use any that you can get hold of. If dried then add at the end of the dish to garnish. Enjoy!

      • Chloe Chatburn

        Great – thanks!

  • Dheeraj Sam

    Lovely recipe and a beautiful website! Thank you so much! 🙂

  • Mariajose Rodriguez

    Hi in my country i dont have curry leaves…what can i do?

  • Donna de Saint Aromain

    This is my childhood fave, made by my mum and grandmother. So glad to have found this authentic and delicious recipe, so I can make the memories for my family. The only difference is that we add 2 or 3 large green capsicums, giving it another level of flavour. Love your recipes!

  • roadridetrip

    Very good recipe…
    The ½“ piece of ginger slivers when do we put it?
    At the end ? Raw ?

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      As the recipe mentions at the end when you garnish. It softens with the heat of the gravy.


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