Sunday, 27 July 2014

Nawabi Ishtew

 This post takes me back to the story of the legendary Ponchu Nona. I had written all about him in a previous post, for those who came in late, Ponchu Nona was a brilliant cook who cooked for our family for over 40 years. He is longer alive but his legacy continues to thrive among our family and friends, in our reminiscences and our longings. My family has not got over losing him yet, not just Ponchu Nona the cook. but the Ponchu Nona, who was one of our very own.

So Ponchu Nona would often prepare a chicken dish with whole spices only, usually on Saturday evenings. He called it Ishtew. As a kid standing on the threshold of the enigma that is the English language and only begining to appreciate its nuances, I was always irked by the term ishtew. "No, it's not ishtew, it's stew. And this is not stew either," I would admonish him. For me stew was what my grand ma made with carrots and potatoes and meat.

I remember I had voluntarily taken up the job of his personal tutor. Ponchu Nona had never gone to school. That was why he couldn't pronounce stew I concluded, just like he couldn't pronounce school, he always said ishkool. My parents asked me to leave the poor old man alone but I wouldn't listen. I was five and every evening sharp at 5 o clock I arrived in his room, a wooden ruler in hand and a few crayons to write on the wall...In the next hour in the most serious tone I could manage I  would recite everything my class teacher had said at school on that particular day verbatim and satisfied, told him he was free to go. Ponchu Nona listened to everything with utmost concentration. He never threw me out of his room for ruining his afternoon nap. Had he done so no one would have objected. Anyway my teaching continued for a week, then I got bored. And Ponchu Nona's lessons came to an abrupt halt.

However, years later I would learn that Ponchu Nona was not completely wrog when he said Ishtew. An Ishtew is after all a Bona fide Indian culinary invention! I had forgotten all about the Ishtew, until I sampled a delightful recently at a city hotel, culinary legend Imtiaz Qureshi's Desi Murgh Ishtew. With Eid just round the corner I decided to try it at home,sort of for a pre Eid do, before the Biryanis and kebabs avalanche comes rushing. I was guided by my taste buds and a rough guideline my aunt gave me from what she remembered of Ponchu Nona's Ishtew.

Here goes the recipe


Country Chicken : 1.5 kg
Mustard oil as needed

Sugar : 1 tbsp
Thinly sliced onions - 3 medium

For marination
Buttermilk (sour): 200ml
Garlic paste: 1.5 tbsp
Ginger paste : 2.5 tbsp
Minced onion : 1 cup
Nutmeg powder : 3/4 tsp
Salt and pepper

Whole spices
Cardamom: 6-8
Cloves: 6-8
Cinnamon stick - 4 inch
Bay leaves:  3
Star anise: 3
Black cardamom (only the seeds):  2
Mace: 3
Peppercorns: 12-15
Cumin (whole):  3/4 tbsp
Coriander (whole): 1.5 tbsp
Fennel (whole): 1tsp
Whole dry red chilies: 6-8


 Marinate the chicken over night with salt, pepper, ginger paste, garlic paste, minces onion,nutmeg powder and buttermilk. Ensure the chicken pieces remain submerged in the marinade. 

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat mustard oil until it begins to smoke. Add the whole spices except the dry red chilies.

Once the whole spices splutter and exude their aroma, toss in the sliced onions and dry red chilies, fry until onions are golden brown. Add the chicken pieces, without the marinade. 

Fry until the chicken in golden on all sides, then add the reserved marinade and a cup of warm water, bring to a boil. Adjust seasoning, add sugar, reduce heat and let it simmer covered for about 45 minutes or until chicken is tender.

Serve with roomali rotis or tandoori naan.


  1. This looks absolutely delicious. I am going to make it soon. Thanks for the recipe.

    1. Thank you so much. Let me know how it turns out!!!

  2. Hi Priyadarshini,
    Just made this incredible stew tonight for a close family dinner. Here is the picture.
    Have also tagged your page. Thanks for sharing the recipe. :)

    1. Thanks. Your version looks great! Glad I (my recipe) made you and your guests happy. Stay in touch here!