Cook This: Chicken Sambal Stew Cooked in a Coconut Shell

June 10, 2017

Conventional thinking will have you convinced that any stew needs to be braised or simmered in a sturdy vessel (i.e. that gorgeous dutch oven you’ve been eyeing or the trusty oven and microwave-safe pot you got as a hand-me-down when you moved out.), but that doesn’t have to always be the case. Locally, stews and grains are sometimes cooked in hollow bamboo over bonfires. This cooking process imparts a unique flavor and aroma to the dish, similar to how pandan leaves flavors rice when cooked together. In this recipe, we apply the technique of cooking in a bamboo shoot to cooking inside a coconut shell.

Cooking in a coconut has roots in different cuisines, where a stew or soup is cooked in a shell over a bonfire. To adapt this recipe for home cooks, stuff the prepared stew into a coconut shell and cook in the oven. The coconut easily lends its aroma and distinct taste to the stew. This recipe pairs a bold sambal chicken with the sweet coconut water and meat combining for a spicy and flavorful stew dotted with tender local vegetables and chicken pieces. Though this style of cooking is applicable to many other stews and braises like the local sinigang. 

The ingredients used in this recipe fit the local palate and are easy to find in markets. The bold flavors seamlessly combine together in this stew, letting individual ingredients take on the spices of the sambal and in turn lending their own distinct flavors to the entire dish. Make sure to use a young coconut instead of an older coconut, or niyog as it’s called locally, the water in a young coconut is sweeter while its meat is softer which complements the stew and makes it easier to prepare. Try your hand at cooking this recipe or test our your favorite stew cooked in a coconut shell and let us know how it works out.

Filipino Sambal Chicken in a Coconut

Yield: 1 coconut
Time: 2 hours


  • 1 young coconut
  • 225g chicken thigh fillets

Ingredients: Vegetables

  • ¼ bunch chili leaves
  • 1 tbsp sampaloc leaves
  • 2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 eggplant, cut into 1 cm thick slices
  • 2 green chili (siling pansigang)
  • 2 pandan leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar

Ingredients: Sambal Sauce

  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic clove, sliced
  • 1 ginger, about a thumb sized piece, peeled, and sliced
  • 2 turmeric, thumb sized, peeled, and sliced
  • 1 tbsp dried shrimp (hibe)
  • 1 pc tomato, quartered
  • 2 pcs bird’s eye chili, chopped roughly
  • 2 tbsp burong hipon
  • 2 tbsp spiced vinegar (sukang pinakurat)
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 bayleaf
  • 2 star anise, toasted
  • 2 tsp black pepper, toasted and crushed

Ingredients: Dough

  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup water

Procedure: Sambal

  1. Heat up a pan.
  2. Add canola oil.
  3. Add garlic and hibe and brown.
  4. Add onions, ginger and turmeric.
  5. Toss till well coated and soft.
  6. Add tomato and siling labuyo and cook until tomato gives up its liquid.
  7. Add the buro and sauté until cooked through.
  8. Deglaze with water, vinegar and fish sauce.
  9. Purée with immersion blender.
  10. Add bayleaf and star anise and cook until oil starts to separate.
  11. Season with salt to taste.
  12. Place in a container for use with other dishes.

Procedure: Coconut

  1. Open up the top of the coconut and save the top lid.
  2. Save water and scrape out pulp from coconut.
  3. Blend pulp and water together and set aside
  4. Make the dough by mixing the water and flour together and kneading until combined.
  5. Season chicken thighs with salt and brown in a hot pan.
  6. Cut into 1 inch cubes and place in a bowl
  7. Add the prepared vegetables to bowl except for pandan.
  8. Add the cooked sambal to the pan.
  9. Mix through and stuff into the prepared coconut.
  10. Top up with coconut water and 2 pandan leaves.
  11. Cover with coconut lid and seal with dough.
  12. Place in a baking pan and place about an inch of water in pan
  13. Bake in a 375˚F oven for 1.5 to 2 hours. The sauce should read at least 60˚C (140˚F) in a probe thermometer.
  14. Serve with rice.
Bernice Escobar SEE AUTHOR Bernice Escobar

Bernice loves to get nerdy about food and making people hungry. In her free time, she attempts to play with her anti-social cat and fantasizes about all things sweet.

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