Kolkata Cabin-Style  Creamy White Chicken Stew

What comes to your mind when you hear these words, Kolkata, Cabin And Stew threaded together as a recipe? Well, it normally weaves up a blurry image of some recipe of British-era Kolkata devised by the colonisers in Kolkata newly exposed and adapting to European culture of restaurants and hotels designed as cabins. This Cabin-Style White Chicken Stew is just every bit of that classic British-style stew of the yesteryear loaded with creaminess, whole veggies and chicken bust. The luring and pale-coloured soup, interspersed with bright veggies is a visual treat at first, and a sumptuous meal later.

The Eclectic Past Of Stew In India

What is a Stew? It is a dish made of meat and vegetables cooked slowly in liquid in a closed dish or pan. These are close to soups but are thicker and cooked slowly for a long time. In India, brown stews are popularly cooked throughout Muslim households and are locally called Ishtoo or Ishtew. The stews of Bengal, however, have been heavily influenced by both Mughal cuisine and British Legacy, ending up in white stews, where bones are blanched to ensure that the gravy is white. The Kolkata Style White Chicken Stew is inspired by the recipe given in Rakamari Amish Ranna, a famous Bengali cookbook by Renuka Debi Choudhurani. 

The Culture Of Cabin restaurants In India 

Cabin-style restaurants emerged in Kolkata more than a century ago, during colonial times. These were called cabins after the plywood partitioned curtained cabins they contained. These first-ever restaurants in India were designed to enable women to eat out with their families and yet be away from the public eye.  In those times respectable women were not meant to be seen in public. 

Preparation: 1 hour 30 minutes

Cooking: 1 hour

Servings: 8


1.5 kg 4 whole small chicken (~600 g each live chicken)

250 g baby potatoes

250 g baby onions

250 g regular onions

250 g carrots

250 g beans

250 g green papaya

4 pcs bay leaves

5 g white pepper

15 g ginger

75 g butter

150 g milk

30 g maida (plain flour)

18 g salt

2.4 kg water‍

½ tsp MSG


Remove carefully the spine of the chicken and cut along the centre of the breast, splitting and cutting the chicken into two pieces.

Each of these pieces should have one leg, one breast, and one wing.  

Blanch the bones, spine and chicken bust to remove any impurities that can make the stock look dark in colour. 

When it comes to a boil, drain the water and wash it well under running water. Drain the water and set the chicken and the bones aside. 

Chop onions into halves and boil for 10 minutes until they soften. Drain the water and grind these onions into a smooth paste.

Take a pot, add the blanched bones, and spine then add the chopped ginger and lightly crushed white pepper. To this add 2.4 litres of room temperature water and boil for 30 minutes. 

A pressure cooker can also be used instead.

After the stock is made, add the baby onions, baby potatoes, and carrots and add salt. Cover partially with a lid and set on medium heat so that the liquid boils slowly.

After 10 minutes add papaya and the chicken pieces, and add half a teaspoon of MSG. Cover partially and simmer.

After 10 minutes add the green beans and cook for 15 more minutes before turning off the stove. 

Separate the chicken pieces and vegetables from the stock and keep them separately.

Discard the chicken spine, bones, bay leaves and ginger slices.

In a pot, heat butter and add the boiled onion paste, then add ground white pepper. Stir well and cook on low heat and ensure that the onion paste does not turn brown. 

After 2 minutes add the stock and stir. Cook this at high heat and let it come to a boil.

Meanwhile, make a slurry of cold milk and maida without any lump.

Now add this slurry into the pot in a drizzle while stirring continuously. Let this come to a boil so that the flour thickens, and mingles completely with the stew. 

When the colour of the stew changes to a more opaque white, add the chicken and the vegetables back into the pot.

Mix everything well and cook for 2-3 minutes while taking care that the chicken or the vegetables don't break. 

Serve hot

The White Chicken stew cooked with some effort and patience turns out great in taste and appearance. The best combination with it is that of thickly buttered toast or bread slices.