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Chicken ishtoo

An Ishtoo (aka Estew, Eshtu, Ishtu, Istoo) is the bastardization of the tradition English (or Irish) stew brought to India by the British. The almost bland English version was adapted by the Indians, and the colonials in India, to include chilies, spices and coconut milk as the base. The essence of the dish was transformed to a delicate stew with flavors and aromas. The Kerala stew in particular is mild, lightly scented and beautifully flavored with a hint of chili.

This version also borrows from northern cuisine in the use of fried onions and ghee. This adaptation is due to the influence of the Mughal cooking techniques that depended heavily on onions based gravies. However, the stew does stay true to the South Indian roots, it is delicate, lightly flavored and with a thick coconut base. The stew is wonderful, the chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender, the flavors subtle and it is perfect with appams. Aklso check out thos delicious Mixed vegetarian ishtoo on this blog.

This South Indian cookbook brings to my shelf the unique cuisine of the Chettinad Tamils in South India. This, now popular cuisine, is known to be extremely spicy, complex and distinct. This book is a wonderful collection of recipes that makes this cuisine accessible to us at home.

For more recipes from this cookbook click here.


3 tablespoons oil

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 one-inch piece cinnamon stick

3 cloves

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (saunf)

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

3-4 green chilies, cut lengthwise into half, or to taste

1 tablespoon ginger paste

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

9-10 shallots, peeled and left whole

12-15 curry leaves

1 lb chicken drumsticks, or cut of choice

Salt, to taste

1 teaspoon pepper

1 can coconut milk

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 teaspoon lime juice or vinegar

2 tablespoons ghee

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced

Cilantro, minced, to garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot, large enough for all the ingredients, and add the mustard seeds. When the splutter, about 20 seconds, add the cinnamon stick, cloves, fennel seeds, and cumin seeds and give a quick stir. Add the green chilies, ginger and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes till the raw scent of ginger is gone.

Add the shallots and curry leaves and sauté till the shallots are translucent, you do not want them to turn color.

Add the chicken and sauté till the chicken looks cooked on the outside and the meat is sealed, about 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk and water, if needed, to just cover the chicken. Simmer sealed with a lid for 30 minutes, checking on the liquids to make sure they are not drying out.

Add the potatoes, stir well and simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes till the potatoes are cooked through and soft. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice and stir in. Once the lime juice has been stirred in, do not boil the stew, it may split.

Heat the ghee in a frying pan and add the onions. Fry till the onions are browned. remove and set aside.

To serve, heat the stew, careful that it is hot and does not boil unattended. Stir the stew almost continually. Serve hot sprinkled with the fried onions and garnished with some cilantro.

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This dish has got me salivating. Have placed for a few requests for people to cook it for me 😁

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