Recently my family and I spent the day with a local Keralan family in Cochin: Lt. Col. Mathens, Moly and Philip. The intention was to spend the day with them cooking and eating so you can imagine how excited I was about this. After a good hours drive from our hotel we arrived at their house, still in Cochin but away from the old centre.
Before the cooking began we were given a guided tour of their garden, which grew all manner of spices, vegetables and fruit. They had planted this magnificent oasis themselves when they had bought the property some years before. It had been shrub land, but with such fertile soil, sunny weather and good rains in the monsoon, the vegetable garden had thrived beyond belief. There was no reason to go to the market to buy fresh produce as they had such a bounty waiting for them in the garden.
How many of the above can you recognise? Let me know in the comments box below.
We were showed at least thirty different vegetables, fruit and spices and to see them growing in their natural habitat was hugely memorable – although looking back through my photographs I cannot be certain about a couple of the plants. A return trip is necessary perhaps to further my education? Any excuse really!
After our garden tour we made our way to the kitchen where Moly explained the different dishes we would be cooking and the others she had prepared earlier that would accompany our feast.
One of the dishes she showed us was her Keralan chicken stew. A couple of things that stood out with the way that she actually prepared the stew.
Firstly it was cooked on the bone, like all authentic curries should. Secondly she add the coconut milk in two stages. To begin with she added the thin coconut milk and at the very end she added the thicker, creamer coconut. The third point was that she added the thin coconut milk when some of the chicken was still pink. She did not measure anything as such, so I frantically took notes as to the approximate amount she was adding into her stew.
It does have a chilli kick to it with pepper, cardamom and clove notes resonating through the dish. By all means reduce the amount of chillies to suit your palate. I added a teaspoon of Kashmiri chilli powder, but this is not necessary and looking back in my notes I don’t believe Moly added it so for the recipe below I have omitted it although when I was testing the recipe I did add it, hence the photos have a red/orange hue to the dish. Yours will not have this in quite the same way if you follow the recipe below.
She did not measure out the coconut milk, but as it generously covered the chicken I think she must have used the equivalent of two tins of coconut milk or thereabouts. I find some brands of coconut milk have a thick creamy coconut milk at the top and a more water milk at the bottom. If you can try and get hold of these types of coconut milk.
Keralan Chicken Stew
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 red onions , finely diced
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
7 Kashmiri chillies
2 potatoes cubed
1 whole chicken (approx 1.2kg) skinned and chopped into 10-12 pieces
1tsp cardamom seeds
4 little pieces of cinnamon bark
1 1/2tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger powder
400ml tin of coconut milk
160ml tin of coconut cream
- In a deep pan – I find my Le creuset casserole works well – add the coconut oil. When it is hot add the mustard seeds and move around the pan for 10 seconds before adding the onion, garlic and dried chillies. Leave to cook in the pan for 3 minutes. Keep on a medium low heat.
- Now add the cubed potatoes and stir into the other ingredients and allow to cook away for a further 3 minutes.
- Add the chicken and stir before placing the lid on the pan for 5 minutes. Some of the chicken will have whitened but do not be alarmed if some of the chicken is still a little pink at this stage.
- Add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon bark, ginger powder and black pepper.
- Add the coconut milk and the salt. Put the lid back on the pan and allow to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring at intervals.
- Test to see that the potato is soft and the chicken is cooked. Add more salt if necessary.
- At the very end turn the heat down very low and add the coconut cream and stir into the stew. It is important that you do not let it boil as the coconut cream will split.
Serve with rice, luchi, chapati or the traditional Keralan appam.