Comforting chicken stew

A slight variation of the original, this chicken stew is just as cozy

Reading Time: 3 minutes


A stew (or ‘ishtu’ as it is often called) is a popular dish in Kerala, especially enjoyed for breakfast.

The Kerala style stew is quite different from its Western counterparts, distinctly characterised by the addition of coconut milk. It’s a light dish, not heavy on masala or spices since it’s intended as a light meal.

Mild but fragrant and aromatic, the key flavours here are green chilli, ginger and peppercorns. Made with both vegetables and meat, the mutton stew is perhaps the most popular, often served as a breakfast item at weddings. If you prefer a vegetarian version, do try with potatoes or mixed vegetables – delicious!

The recipe presented here is a variation of the classic chicken stew. While the base of the stew remains the same, the difference is that the chicken pieces are first marinated and shallow fried before adding to the coconut milk gravy. Marinating and frying the chicken pieces before adding to the stew not only adds more flavour but also provides texture.

There are many ways to enjoy this fried chicken stew. Popular accompaniments are fermented rice breads like appams (hoppers), dosas or idiyappams (string hoppers). Another simple and delicious pairing is soft white bread – the stew must be poured on top of the bread – let it soak the gravy for a minute and then dig in!

The stew also makes for an excellent pairing with the delicious Malabar-style ghee rice.

I have paired this Kerala style fried chicken stew with kal dosa – a thicker, softer and spongy variant of the regular dosa (fermented rice crepes). Usually, the same batter is used but instead of spreading it out into a thin crepe, it is spread thicker like when you make a pancake. The spongier texture of the kal dosa makes it an ideal vehicle for soaking up the stew…. absolute deliciousness.

Kerala-style Fried Chicken Stew



700gms chicken (with bones), cut into really small pieces

2 medium potatoes, diced

For marination 

½ tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp ginger, grated

1 tsp garlic, crushed

½ tsp garam masala

½ tsp fennel seeds, crushed

2 sprigs curry leaves

Juice of ½ lemon

Salt, to season

Coconut oil for shallow frying the chicken

For the gravy

4-5 green chillies (add more or less depending on the heat of the chillies used)

2-3 sprigs curry leaves

1-inch piece ginger, julienned

1 large onion, diced

200 ml coconut milk (thin extract)*

200 ml coconut milk (thick extract)

1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed

Salt, to season

*If you are using canned coconut milk, then dilute 200ml of coconut milk with 150ml water to get the thin extract.


Clean and wash the chicken pieces; drain well.

Marinate using all the ingredients listed, and set aside for 30 minutes to an hour.

Heat coconut oil in a pan, and shallow fry the chicken pieces till just about done. (Don’t overcook the chicken as it tends to go rubbery after adding to the stew gravy). Do this in batches and keep aside.

In another pot or pressure cooker, add the diced potatoes along with the green chillies, half of the curry leaves and ginger, onion and season with salt.

If using a pressure cooker, do not add any water and cook for just one whistle. If using a regular pot, add ½ – 1 cup water, just enough to cook the potato.

Once the potatoes are cooked, add the thin coconut milk extract and the fried chicken pieces. Bring to boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt if necessary.

Reduce heat and add the thick coconut milk extract and crushed black pepper. Mix and remove from heat.

Serve warm garnished with curry leaves and julienned ginger.

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