Chicken Pastilla, a scrumptious Moroccan delicacy, made easy in a skillet. Tender shredded chicken with aromatic spices wrapped in perfectly crisp pastry layers.
WHAT IS BASTILLA OR PASTILLA?
Pastilla is a hugely popular Moroccan preparation, the traditional version of which can be labor intensive and time consuming to make. In some parts of Morocco it is typically made with pigeon meat. It is quite rich and intricately prepared with pastry layers known as warqa.
The version here uses phyllo dough. Often, people are wary about working with phyllo pastry sheets. But, really, it is not that hard at all. Once you figure it out, it is easy and you can make a variety of pastries and even crispy samosas using this dough and freeze it for later.
Like Persian cuisine, Moroccan food uses a combination of sweet and savory flavors in several preparations. So it is not uncommon to see fruits and dried fruits in savory dishes. And traditional versions of this pastry, particularly also use some sugar in it. So yeah, spices, onions, herbs, cinnamon and some sugar with chicken!
But my husband would not eat a chicken pie with sugar. So I made this version, which still combines savory and sweet flavors. Besides, why not reserve the sugar for the sweet treats!
PREPARATION TIPS FOR CHICKEN PASTILLA
I substituted the sugar (used in the traditional version) with some moist dried prunes. But you could also try dried apricots or dates. Make sure to choose dried fruit that is still moist, not too dry and hard.
In addition, what keeps the filling moist is the addition of tender curdled eggs. Also, the chicken thigh meat is a lot more softer than the chicken breast, which I think would be too dry for a Pastilla recipe.
The trick to working easily with phyllo dough is to thaw the frozen dough properly. Once each layer separates out easily and not sticking to each other, then it is so easy to work with. Make sure to buy a good brand and from a store with a high product turnover, so that the stock is fresh.
Sometimes using the microwave for just a few seconds can help separate sticky sheets, but it is tricky. If you overdo it, then the sheets will become dry and crumbly. Checkout my recipe instructions below.
Traditionally, butter is used to brush the warqa (pastry leaf) layers, which makes it quite rich. But I tried this recipe using olive oil to brush the phyllo sheets, then drizzled some ghee on the top and baked it. It was quite flaky and had a rich flavor. But if you desire to have the full richness of the traditional version for special occasions, you may substitute some of the oil with ghee (richer flavor than butter).
One serving of this pastilla has a substantial amount of high quality protein and a good dose of healthy fats from the olive oil. So you can have it with some green salad for your lunch. It could be part of the dinner menu with a light entree and of course any party menu too. I hope that you try making this famous Moroccan delicacy and enjoy!!
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- 3 lbs chicken thighs with bone (yield: approx 1 ½ lbs chicken meat)
- 2 onions medium, sliced
- 1 teaspoon ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend*)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin ground
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander ground
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper ground
- 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo red pepper ground
- 1 ½ teaspoons ginger grated
- 5 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron ground, soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
- 1/3 cup prunes or dates/apricots*, dried, chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro chopped
- 1/4 cup parsley chopped
- 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt (adjust per taste)
- 6 eggs large, whisked
- 1/4 cup almonds roasted, coarsely chopped
- 8 ounces phyllo dough (20 sheets - 9 X 14 size)
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil or ghee/ melted butter
- Almond meal or confectioners sugar with ground cinnamon* (optional)
Take the cleaned chicken thighs in a cooking pot. Add 1/3 of the sliced onions to it.
Next combine the spices in a small prep bowl - ras el hanout through Aleppo red pepper. Add 1/3 of that to the chicken and save the remaining spice mix. Then add 1/3 of the grated ginger to the chicken.
Add about 1/2 cup water to the chicken. Turn on the heat to high and let the water sizzle. Lower the heat and cook the chicken until it is well done.
The chicken will release its own juices. If needed, add a little more water. When the chicken is cooked, reserve two tablespoons of the spiced liquid, if remaining.
Debone the well cooked chicken using a fork. Shred the chicken meat.
Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a large skillet and sauté the remaining sliced onions until golden brown. Stir the ginger.
Add the shredded chicken, remaining spices, ginger, saffron water, chopped prunes, salt, herbs and combine it all. Adjust the seasoning to your taste. Transfer the chicken mixture to a prep bowl.
Heat one teaspoon of oil in the skillet and add the whisked eggs (save one tablespoon for later) and scramble. Then add the two tablespoons of spiced liquid saved from previous step. Season with salt.
Next add the scrambled eggs and almonds to the chicken mixture. Combine it all gently and set aside.
Thaw the Phyllo dough as per instructions – overnight in the refrigerator and an additional 4 hours or more at room temperature.
Preheat oven at 350 degrees F (adjust this as per oven, increase to 375 if needed).
Remove the phyllo dough sheets out of the package. Unwrap and cover it with a damp thin kitchen towel.
Grease a 10 inch iron skillet with oil. Unroll one phyllo sheet and lightly brush with oil. Carefully transfer the phyllo sheet on to the skillet making sure to center it and lightly press it into the base of the skillet.
Brush 8 more sheets, one at a time, and lay over the skillet in a similar fashion, making sure to rotate the placement slightly each time. After placing the 9 oil-brushed sheets, it should look like a fan, such that the sheets are layered uniformly in a circular fashion.
Spread half of the filling on to the layered phyllo sheets. Fold couple of phyllo sheets over the filling.
Layer 9 more oil-brushed phyllo sheets on the filling just like in steps 4 and 5. Spread the remaining filling over the phyllo sheets. Fold over all of the phyllo sheets on top of the filling, tucking the sides into the skillet.
Brush the remaining two phyllo sheets with oil and layer one at a time on to the chicken pie and tucking the sides into the skillet. Mix 1/2 tablespoon oil (or ghee/melted butter) with one tablespoon whisked egg and brush on the top.
Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until nicely golden brown. Let it cool for 5 minutes and dust with almond meal or confectioners sugar + cinnamon mixture.
Ras el hanout, the Moroccan spice blend is available at Moroccan/Middle eastern grocery stores or online.
I used olive oil for most of the chicken pastilla and drizzled some ghee on the top for flavor.
Traditionally the pie is dusted on the top with confectioners sugar and cinnamon. I used finely powdered almond meal instead.
Here is another version of a Moroccan Savory Pastry.
Servings: 8 Serving Size: 1/8th of the Chicken Pastilla
Calories 333, Total Fat 18 g (Saturated Fat 4 g, Polyunsaturated Fat 3 g, Monounsaturated Fat 11 g), Cholesterol 190 mg, Sodium* 466 mg, Potassium 268 mg, Total Carbohydrate 23 g, Dietary Fiber 1.5 g, Sugars 3.5 g, Protein 18 g
* The suggested amount of salt is just a guideline and may need to be adjusted. Check for any added salt in spice mixes and other ingredients and adjust.