In several parts of the Indian subcontinent, the word ‘stew’ has been adopted in to the mainstream vernacular as istew or ishtu. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the istew is served with appam (rice pancakes) or idiyappam (rice noodles or string hoppers). My version is adapted from Camellia Panjabi’s 50 Great Curries of India book.

Malabari chicken istew


800g boneless thigh fillets, cut into bite size pieces

2tbsp vegetable oil

1tbsp ghee

200g onions

5cms piece of ginger

1 teaspoon peppercorns

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

2-3 green chillies

400mls coconut milk

400g waxy potatoes (small round ones)

150g carrot, peeled and cut into a 2 centimetre dice

½ cup fresh or frozen peas

½ tsp black mustard seeds

2 large garlic cloves, sliced lengthwise

5cm stick of cinnamon

4-5 cardamoms

3 cloves

A sprig of curry leaves

Salt to taste


Cut half the ginger into thin julienne and the other into pieces. Set the julienne pieces aside for use later. Pound the ginger pieces, peppercorns and a little turmeric in a mortar and pestle. Coarse is okay as it will not be smooth.

Dice one half of the onions and slice the other half. Blend together the diced onions with the green chilli.

Scrub the potatoes and half boil them in their skin with a pinch of salt and turmeric.

Heat the oil and ghee. When hot, add the mustard seeds. When the seeds crackle, add the sliced garlic, cinnamon stick, cardamoms. After 20 seconds, add the ginger paste, cloves and curry leaves.

Continue frying for a further 20 seconds and add the sliced onions. After frying a couple of minutes, add the onion and green chilli paste. Keep the spatula moving to ensure that things don’t start sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Toss the chicken in and mix well. After about three minutes, add the potatoes and carrots. Cook covered for a couple more minutes. Finally add the coconut milk and salt. Mix well and if the contents of the pan look too thick, add a bit of water. Cover and cook till the chicken is done about 15 minutes. Once done, mix in the peas. Allow to rest for five minutes before serving with steamed rice or rice noodles. Garnish individually with the julienned ginger. Serves 6.

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