Posted on December 15, 2016 by

December – Suriani home-style chicken curry ‘ishtu’

December’s dish of the month features the recipe for a home-style chicken curry, or ‘ishtu’. This is served in Syrian-Christian households in Kerala for breakfast and is a firm favourite at the Christmas table. You use boned chicken in this recipe if you wish, but chicken on the bone provides much more flavour. If using boned chicken, use just the thighs and cook them slow and long for a great result and depth of flavour.

As made by Vivek on BBC’s Christmas Kitchen. Catch up on the show here. Happy holidays! 

Serves 4-6


For the chicken stew

  • 3 tbsp coconut oil or sunflower oil
  • 5cm/2in cinnamon stick
  • 6 cloves
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 5cm/2in piece fresh root ginger, peeled and cut into small matchsticks
  • 2 red onions, thinly sliced
  • 8 green chillies, slit lengthways
  • 15 curry leaves
  • 1kg–1.3kg/2lb 4oz–2lb 14oz chicken, jointed into 8 pieces, or 8 chicken pieces, skin removed
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
  • 590ml/19fl oz coconut milk
  • 5 tbsp toddy (palm) vinegar (or sherry vinegar or sweet white wine vinegar), to serve
  • 1 tsp ground garam masala, to serve

For the sweet and sour rice


For the chicken stew, heat the oil in a large, lidded frying pan or sauté pan. Add the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, followed by the garlic, ginger, onions, chillies and curry leaves. Cook over medium heat until the onions are soft.

Add the chicken, salt and pepper and stir for a minute. Pour in the coconut milk and 125ml/4fl oz water. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

Meanwhile, soak the rice in cold water for 20 minutes, then drain well. Heat the oil in a large, lidded saucepan. Add the star anise, cardamom and bay and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the onion, curry leaves, salt and sugar and cook until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the vinegar, coconut milk, 300ml/10fl oz water and then the rice. Mix well, then simmer, stirring, for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook for 7–8 minutes. All the liquid should be absorbed.
Take off the heat and stir. Cover with the lid again and set aside for 10 minutes to let the rice finish cooking in its steam.

To serve, add the vinegar to the stew, sprinkle over the garam masala and mix well. Remove from the heat and serve with the sweet and sour rice.