During my high school French class, we studied the Francophone world and I had to give a presentation on Morocco. The one thing that stuck out in my brain when we started planning our trip to Morocco last year was that we had to eat chicken pastilla. Why?
Because it's traditionally made with pigeon! And knowing my adventurous foodie husband, he couldn't pass up an opportunity like that.
No pigeon here, sorry...
We went to Morocco and ate pastilla from a street vendor on Djemma el Fna, the main square in Marrakech. I'm not sure if it was chicken or pigeon, but I DO know that it was pretty dang good. A spicy, savory chicken (or pigeon?) mixture wrapped in a flaky pastry shell, topped with cinnamon and sugar. The perfect blend of savory and sweet and exotically awesome.
Our Moroccoan street food feast, pastilla pictured in the center
Djemma el Fna food stalls by night
The other day Fionn and I were reflecting (somewhat dejectedly) that this time last year we were exploring Morocco. I wanted to lift our spirits, so I planned a surprise Moroccan date night dinner for us at home. The first thing that sprung to mind? Pastilla!
I couldn't find a recipe I loved, so I combined the pastilla recipes from Morocco Mama and
Cooking with Alia to invent my own.
Chicken thighs, bone in and skin on (though you can use chicken breasts if you prefer)
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp ras el hanout
A large pinch of saffron (I left this out, but it's a nice touch if you have it)
1 1/2 cups of water or chicken stock
Handful of sliced dates
1 packet sliced almonds
cinnamon and sugar
1 stick of butter (melted)
1 egg yolk
4 oz of powdered sugar
1/4 of a teaspoon of cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 F/185 C
Drizzle olive oil in a large cast iron skillet and set to medium heat. Season chicken thighs with salt, pepper and turmeric, cinnamon, ras el hanout, and ginger and place them into the skillet, skin side down. After 5-7 minutes, flip them over to brown the other side. When both sides are browned, remove to a plate (it's ok if they're not done all the way) and add chopped onions, garlic, and saffron and let them brown as well. Add more seasonings if desired, you want the chicken nice and seasoned and yellow from turmeric!
When the onions and garlic are slightly brown, add the chicken back in along with 1 cup chicken broth or water. Lower heat and let simmer for 30 minutes, or until the sauce starts getting thick and the chicken is cooked through. If it starts to burn, add a little more water.
Once the chicken is done, remove the pan from heat and let cool. Shred the chicken in a bowl and discard skin and bones. Spoon a bit of the sauce over the shredded chicken so it doesn't dry out. Add some sliced dates to the chicken mixture.
Break the 4 eggs into a bowl and mix them with a fork. Then slowly pour them into the still warm chicken sauce mixture in the cast iron skillet. Stir until eggs begin to cook and the sauce becomes dry.
Sprinkle the almonds with sugar and cinnamon and toast at 350 F for 10-15 minutes.
Grease a pie plate and carefully layer 3 sheets of phyllo dough on top of each other, letting a bit hang over the side of the pan and making sure to brush melted butter in between each sheet.
Now you have two options-either do the filling in layers (chicken, phyllo, eggs, phyllo, almonds, phyllo) or mix everything together. I chose to mix everything.
Spread some the chicken-almond-egg mixture into the pie pan, top with 3-4 sheets of phyllo (brushing each sheet with butter as you go), then add more chicken mixture, then more phyllo. Continue until you run out of chicken mixture. When you do, cover the chicken mixture with 2 sheets of phyllo and then carefully fold the overhanging phyllo dough into the center. Brush the top of the pastry with egg yolk or melted butter.
Bake pastilla for 25-30 minutes or until phyllo is golden brown.
When the pastilla is done, remove from oven and using a sieve, carefully shake powdered sugar over the top, followed by cinnamon.
If you can't be in Morocco, I guess Morocco can come to you!