Bastilla is a trademark of Morocco, chicken pie wrapped in flaky pastry finished with a generous dusting of cinnamon and powdered sugar. The Spanish brought it to North Africa, but nomadic Berbers and native Arabic people have shaped its composition through the years. Known by many names, B’stilla/Pastilla/Bistilla is traditionally made with pigeon meat stewed in onions and aromatic spices, then wrapped in paper-thin crepes called warqa which means leaf in Arabic. My adventurous parents enjoyed it at a local Moroccan restaurant and described it as a delightfully different dish. My only thought was, “I am NOT eating pigeon!”
Then, a documentary about the culinary culture of Morocco piqued my interest. What we deem rats with wings are prized for their meat. While the pigeon stewed slowly with onions and aromatics in a heavy pot, a lady chef casually slapped a dough ball onto a big round griddle to make paper-thin warqa pastry, then effortlessly peeled it off without breaking it.
It was astounding.
Bastilla is such an interesting dish, but I cheat on two counts. I use store-bought phyllo dough and chicken meat. The stuffing has toasted almonds, egg and raisins seasoned with precious saffron and a hint of curry. Made in a skillet on the stovetop or baked in the oven, it’s ready in 30 minutes. Crispy, toasted in butter and finished with a heaps of cinnamon and sugar, Basilla is sure to impress any night of the week.
Remember that phyllo dries out quickly. So keep it covered with a clean dish towel to prevent it from cracking.
Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 45 mins
1 lb free-range chicken thighs
3 whole cinnamon sticks
2 Tb butter
2 Tb olive oil
1/2 tsp saffron threads+1/2 tsp sugar+2 Tb hot water
1/2 tsp freshly-cracked black pepper
4 free-range eggs
1 tsp curry powder
1 cup toasted almonds
1/4 cup raisins
1 Tb preserved lemon, chopped (optional)
10-12 large sheets phyllo
1 stick melted butter
Put the kettle on and heat some water.
Grind saffron with sugar in a small mortar and pestle.
Pour yourself a nice cup of tea and add a few tablespoons of the hot water to the ground saffron.
Let it steep while you work on the onions.
Cook chicken and cinnamon sticks.
Peel, chop and caramelize onions in olive oil on a low flame. Be patient, else you’ll burn them as I often do!
Beat eggs with saffron liquid and curry.
Blitz almonds, sugar and cinnamon in a food processor to a sandy consistency.
Place a frying pan over low heat. Add a knob of butter and small drizzle of olive oil. Swirl around to coat the pan well.
Drape several sheets of phyllo across the bottom of the skillet.
Carefully tuck the pastry around the inside, then brush with melted butter.
Add chicken to the pan and sprinkle almond mixture over the top.
Pour egg mixture over the chicken and cover with more sheets of phyllo.
Carefully fold over the phyllo dough on all sides, brush the top with melted butter.
Bake the bastilla in a 350 *F (or cook on the stovetop with a lid on the pan). oven for about 12-15 mins or until lightly browned.
Carefully turn skillet upside-down on a large platter.
Sift a generous amount of powdered sugar over the pie.
Pinching cinnamon between your fingers, draw a criss-cross pattern of cinnamon over the layer of powdered sugar.