This chicken stew with coconut milk recipe is the cheat version of the popular Kerala-style Ishtu. Bone-in chicken pieces and mixed vegetables are cooked in coconut oil infused with whole spices and stewed in coconut milk made with store-bought coconut milk powder.
Chicken ishtu is Kerala's very own coconut milk-rich chicken and vegetable stew that I grew up having with neychor aka ghee rice but, F prefers it with vallappam! I must mention that this is not the authentic method but trust me the taste is not compromised at all.
What is Kerala-style chicken stew?
Kerala-style chicken ishtu is a stew dish where the bone-in chicken with potatoes is cooked in coconut oil, infused with whole spices and stewed in freshly extracted coconut milk. This stew is served with appam, ghee rice, ari dosha, or even Kerala porotta and is both a staple and festive food of god's own country.
Fresh coconut milk vs canned or powder
Making this chicken stew with freshly extracted coconut milk involves adding thin coconut milk in the initial stage and finishing with thick coconut milk. While there may be some scientific food wisdom around that, I chose use store-bought canned or powder form. It is convenienet for those who do not have access to fresh coconut milk or like me, abhor the task of extracting coconut milk. I shamelessly use coconut milk powder or canned coconut milk.
The coconut milk powder usually has instructions on the pack to make thin and thick coconut milk. I mostly use Maggie coconut milk powder and use 3 tablespoons of powder with 1 cup of warm water to make 1 cup of coconut milk.
I made this chicken stew with coconut milk recipe for my mom and folks back home. Mummy extracted coconut milk from scratch (because we are blessed with coconut trees) and I used my recipe as the base. They all loved it. Including my dad - the one hard to please. I was elated is understatement.
- chicken: Any stew is best made with bone-in pieces. You may use pre-cut chicken whole legs or drumsticks or thighs with bone.
- freshly ground black pepper: It makes a huge difference so make that effort.
- whole spices: fennel seeds, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
- veggies: ginger garlic paste, green chillies and curry leaves, red onion or shallots, potatoes, carrots and green peas.
- full-fat coconut milk (made from powder or canned)
See recipe card for quantities.
My recipe does not have any special spice blend or an array of ground spices not even ripe tomato. The flavour comes through from whole spices and freshly ground black pepper.
How to make it?
In a deep stew pot on medium flame, heat coconut oil and fry the whole spices until fragrant. Next, add the ginger-garlic paste, green chillies and curry leaves and fry until the paste turns golden. Add and saute the sliced onions until translucent.
Now, add the chicken, salt and pepper and cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Open and pour the coconut milk, water and chopped potatoes. Stir the stew until everything is mixed well. Continue to to cook stirring until it warms up. Cover and cook.
Add the chopped carrots and cook covered for 6 to 8 minutes. Lastly, add the thawed green peas and cook for 5 minutes.
Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. Use the back of the ladle to smash some of the potato chunks to add creaminess to the stew. Switch off and prepare the tempering.
In a tadka or smaller pan, heat coconut oil and fry the sliced shallots until golden. Next, add some cashews, green chillies and curry leaves. Fry until the onions are almost browned, the curry leaves are crispy and the cashews are golden. Pour this over the chicken stew and stir it. Keep covered for a few minutes and serve with appam or ghee rice or ari dosha!
- You can make this chicken stew without carrots and green peas but keep the potatoes.
- You can skip the meat or chicken and make this a all vegetarian or vegan stew.
- You may skip mini shallots and use red onion instead. Onions tend to be sweeter than shallots, so do taste and adjust per your liking.
Store any leftover chicken stew in a bowl with lid and keep it in the fridge for not more than 2 days. I have never tried freezing this. To reheat, bring to room temperature and reheat on lowest flame until warms up.
Coconut milk tends to split, but that is not the end all and you don't have to trash the food. The simplest way to prevent or bring it back to a normal state is to keep stirring non-stop. And make sure the stew pot does not vigorously boil. Always maintain low to medium heat and simmer until done.
Chicken and Vegetable Stew with Coconut Milk
For the Chicken Stew
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 small star anise
- 10 cloves
- 3 green cardamom
- 2 inch cinnamon stick
- ½ tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste
- 2 to 5 green chillies
- 5 to 8 curry leaves
- 1 large red onion chopped finely
- 800 grams skinless whole chicken curry cut
- 1 teaspoon black pepper powder
- salt to taste
- 2 cups coconut milk 6 tablespoon coconut powder in 2 cups warm water
- 1 cup water approx. enough to barely submerge all the contents in the pot
- 1 large potato chunked
- 1 to 2 carrot diced
- ½ cup frozen green peas soaked in water to bring to room temp
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 5 mini shallots or half a medium onion, sliced
- 8 whole cashews broken
- 3 green chillies slit
- 1 sprig curry leaves
Prepare the stew
- Heat coconut oil in a deep stew pot on medium flame.
- Add all the whole spices and fry for a few seconds until fragrant.
- Add the ginger-garlic paste, green chillies and curry leaves and fry until the paste turns golden.
- Add the chopped onion and saute until translucent.
- Add the chicken along with salt and pepper.
- Cover the pot and cook on low to medium flame for 8 to 10 minutes stirring occasionally until all the chicken pieces have turned white.
- Open and pour the prepared coconut milk, water and chopped potatoes. Stir until everything is mixed well. Continue to stir to prevent the coconut milk from splitting. Stir until the stew warms up. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
- Add the chopped carrots and cook covered for 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add the thawed green peas and boil for 5 minutes.
- Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. Use the back of the ladle to smash some of the potato chunks to add creaminess to the stew. Switch off and prepare the tempering.
Prepare the tempering
- Heat the coconut oil in a small pan.
- Add the sliced shallots and fry until golden.
- Add the cashews, green chillies and some curry leaves. Fry until the onions are almost browned, the curry leaves are crispy and the cashews are golden.
- Pour the tempering over the prepared chicken stew and stir it. Serve hot with appam or ghee rice or ari dosha!