Chicken Bastilla

Bastilla is a festive Moroccan pastry that is sweet and savory at the same time. It is filled with chicken, eggs, onions, almonds, and spiced with cinnamon and sugar.  I didn’t spend a lot of time decorating the top of this one, but I’ve seen photos of them covered with a thin layer of powdered sugar and cinnamon lattice, and with twice as many thinner stripes than this one. All of those flavors together might sound a little strange, but it was a very tasty pie.

A lot of steps are involved in making this pastry, which is probably why it’s a dish for special occasions. There are different variations of this recipe in each of the cookbooks that I am reading, as well as an online version from cookingwithalia.com  I mainly followed the recipe out of the cookbook “A Taste of Morocco” by Amiard et al. with a few key changes (including using chicken instead of pigeon meat!). Here’s an approximate recipe for what I did.

Chicken Bastilla
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 c. onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
3 c. water
2 large chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
1 tsp. ground coriander
pinch of saffron threads
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
5 eggs
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. finely chopped parsley
2 c. slivered almonds
partial pack of phyllo dough

Heat the butter and oil in a large pan over medium heat. Saute onions and cook until translucent. Add ginger and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Then add water and chicken. Stir well, cover and simmer until chicken is done, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the broth, leaving the broth in the pan.

Add coriander, saffron, and cinnamon to the pan. Cook and reduce the sauce for 5-10 minutes. Measure out about 1 1/2 c. broth and discard the rest. Add sugar. While the mixture is simmering, slowly stir in eggs, one at a time. Keep stirring as they cook and break up and absorb the flavorful broth. They get really brown and don’t look very appetizing. Stir constantly for about 5 minutes while eggs cook through. If there is any broth left at this point, drain it out of the pan. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350F. Toast the almonds in a bit of oil in a saucepan or in the oven. Chop roughly in a food processor so that they’re a little smaller than slivered almonds, but not powderized. Cool.

When ingredients are somewhat cool, you’re ready for assembly. In a deep dish pie pan or 9″ cake pan, overlay about 4 layers of phyllo dough, so that edges overlap the edges of the pan. Place an extra layer doubled over in the bottom to make it more sturdy. Place half the almonds in the bottom of the dish. Layer the onion and egg mixture over the top of that, and then the chicken. Top with the last layer of almonds. Fold the pastry edges back over the filling. With one phyllo sheet at a time, cover the top of the pastry and tuck the edges in all around. Use about 4-5 sheets of phyllo on the top as well, until it’s all nice and tidy (the cookingwithalia video shows this process very well).

Bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes until nicely browned. Remove from oven and before serving, decorate with cinnamon and powdered sugar, serve warm. Ideally, you would remove it onto a plate first, but I didn’t trust myself not to break it apart trying that!

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