Kerala Chicken Ishtoo

We learned to make this Keralan Chicken Ishtoo (stew) at Brunton Boatyard in Fort Kochi, Kerala. It was our first day in the “land of coconuts” back in 2016. We attended the nightly cooking demo that CGH Earth Experience offers at all their properties. Chef Noble Francis expertly conducted the demo.

He explained that coconut oil is the backbone of Keralan cooking. After coconut, he shared that curry leaves also leave an indelible taste signature on the cuisine. This recipe is a great manifestation of both those principles.

We found Keralan Chicken Ishtoo almost everywhere we travelled in this lush tropical state. But, chef Francis’s is the one we always come back to. Maybe it’s a case of first impressions being strongest? Or, maybe it was just a case of love at first bite?

Either way, the use of curry leaves, the subtlety of the spicing and that final drizzle of coconut oil were the perfect introduction to Keralan cooking. And, as far as seeing the dish repeatedly? Well, some things bear repeating very nicely.

Keralan Chicken Ishtoo (Stew) Recipe

2 servings (easily multiplied)


2 Tablespoon coconut oil – divided
2 pieces whole star anise
4 cloves
1 Indian bay leaf
2 – (1-inch) pieces cinnamon bark
3 cracked green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon garlic paste
1 teaspoon ginger paste
1 teaspoon green chili paste
1 cup small red onions – chopped in large dice
8 oz chopped chicken breast meat
pinch salt – plus more to taste
2 cups parboiled vegetables – carrots, green beans, squash
20 curry leaves
water as needed
1 cup boiled potatoes – cut in bite size pieces
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper – or to taste
1 cup coconut milk


  1. Heat 1 Tablespoon of the coconut oil in a wok on medium heat.
  2. Add the whole anise, cloves, curry leaf, cinnamon and cardamom and cook until fragrant – about 30 – 45 seconds.
  3. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant – about 30 seconds – and then add the ginger and chili pastes and cook another 30 – 45 seconds.
  4. Add the onions and cook until just translucent.
  5. Add the chicken breast meat and a pinch of salt and stir fry until cooked through.
  6. Stir in the mixed parboiled vegetables and curry leaves and add water until just even with the level of the vegetables.
  7. Cook a few moments and then add the boiled potatoes.
  8. Taste and add the pepper and adjust it and the salt to your liking.
  9. Remove the pan from the heat and add the coconut milk, stirring it through the mixture.
  10. Drizzle the dish with the other tablespoon of coconut oil just before serving to refresh the coconut flavour.
  11. Enjoy with appams or naan bread.

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