Moroccan Chicken Bastila

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A coworker once called me a recipe tease.  I don’t mean to wave my recipes like the unattainable carrot, but sometimes it happens.  I get excited and mean well, but my forgetfulness takes over.  Recently, well, okay, maybe like 5 months ago, a faithful reader made such an accusation, although in different words, and I quote:  “Nice Girl, waited long enough.  What about the recipe?  Thanks again!”.  Being a teacher, my first thought was Yesss! you were paying attention!  My second thought was “Bad girl, you are a recipe tease.”  The guilt has been nagging at me ever since.  I love-hate it when people hold me accountable.

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The recipe in question was originally posted the summer before last.  Bastila is a Moroccan dish eaten for special meals with company.  It takes the better part of a day to make, and even longer if you’re actually in Morocco.  Things like waiting for a live chicken to be butchered and plucked, and ordering a fresh batch of fillo.   Fatima, the maid at my friend’s apartment in Casablanca, taught me to make Bastila through gesture, and words in Arabic and French I didn’t understand.

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I think it has taken me a while to re-post this because making the Bastila, and fine- tuning the recipe seemed like a daunting task!  My friend Karissa who lived in Morocco (and now lives here in Denver) and I decided to [finally] remake the recipe using my notes from Fatima, with additional guidance from one of my favorite Moroccan cookbook authors, Paula Wolfert.  If you’d like to read more about Bastila, and to see the process in a Moroccan kitchen, you can find my original post here.

Garnishing the Bastila

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Dear reader, you know who you are (ahem–JBH)…if you’re still there, this recipe is for you!

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Moroccan Chicken Bastila

Serves 12

Because of the intricacy and time required to make this regal dish, Bastila is meant to be shared with company.  It is a grand chicken (or traditionally, pigeon) fillo-topped pie, a balance of savory flavors and warm-spices, with velvety egg woven throughout. The filling can be made up to a day in advance, and assembled and baked the day of.  

Ingredients:

  • 3 pound whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces (see tutorial here, or ask the butcher to cut if for you)
  • 2 pinches saffron (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried ginger
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • Two 2-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 4 medium onions, chopped
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 stick butter, melted and cooled
  • 12 ounces whole blanched almonds (or, see instructions for blanching almonds)
  • 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 8 ounces frozen fillo dough sheets, thawed overnight in the refrigerator

Process:

  1. Warm the saffron threads in a heated frying pan on the stove for about 30-45 seconds.  Remove promptly, crumble the threads between your fingers.  In a small bowl, add the saffron threads to 3 tablespoons hot water, and stir to dissolve.
  2. Mix the saffron water with the ginger, pepper, turmeric, nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Put the chicken in a large saucepan or dutch oven, and coat with the saffron water mixture.   Cover and set aside for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the onions, cinnamon sticks, and 1 1/2 cups water to the pan with the chicken, and stir to distribute evenly.  Put the pan on the stove over high heat.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook the chicken, covered, at a high simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until cooked through and tender.  Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to cool slightly.
  4. Discard the cinnamon sticks.  Continue to simmer the onion mixture for about 10 minutes.  In the meantime, roughly shred the chicken using your hands.  Discard the skin and bones (or save to make stock for a later use).
  5. Add the shredded chicken, parsley, and cilantro to the pan with the simmering onion mixture.  Season with salt to taste and stir to combine.   Cook over medium high heat until most of the liquid has evaporated (there should be about 1 1/2 cups liquid left in the pan.  Stir in the lemon juice.
  6. Beat the eggs until frothy, then slowly pour them into the simmering chicken mixture, stirring continuously in one direction until they are incorporated.  Cook for 8-10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the eggs are set, but the mixture still appears moist. Stir in the golden raisins. Taste for salt and season if needed.
  7. Fry the blanched almonds:  Heat the oil in a large skillet and fry the almonds until they are a light golden brown.  Drain on paper towels.  When they are cool, coarsely chop about 3/4 of the almonds in a food processor, reserving the rest of the almonds for the garnish.  Mix the powdered sugar and cinnamon with the almonds.
  8. Preheat the oven to 425˚ F.  Unroll the thawed fillo sheets, and lay them on a cutting board.  Cover the fillo sheets with a damp dish towel to prevent them from drying out.
  9. Brush some of the melted butter in a 12” deep dish pizza pan, baking sheet, or casserole dish.  Cover the bottom of the pan with 4 sheet of fillo, overlapping them so that the edges hang off the sides of the pan.
  10. Working quickly, spread half of the almond-sugar mixture across the fillo dough, then add the chicken, spreading it evenly.  Spread the rest of the almond-sugar mixture across the top of the chicken.
  11. Fold the edges of the fillo over the chicken.  Brush the top of the fillo with butter, and add the remaining 4 sheets of fillo, adding butter between each layer, tucking the edges into the side of the pan.  Brush the top with melted butter, and the beaten egg yolk.
  12. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and crisp.
  13. Decorate the top with criss-crossed lines of powdered sugar, cinnamon, and the remaining fried almonds.  Serve while hot.
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2 Comments

Filed under Main Dishes

2 responses to “Moroccan Chicken Bastila

  1. Karissa

    Jenny, I had as much fun reading this as I did creating the food (and watching the photography happen)! Love the post!

    Everyone else- it’s delicious. In the way of Moroccans, “bishah” (enjoy)!

  2. Pingback: Chicken Bastila, the Moroccan Way | Spoon With Me

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