Celebrity chefs have their own take on the traditional Moroccan pie, but this original recipe—from my very Moroccan mother—is a perfect starting point for anyone craving layers of seasoned chicken goodness. Pastilla is traditionally served with pigeon, but the chicken substitute has proved to be a popular alternative for Moroccans and expats alike.
With a savory filling wrapped in a sweet, crispy coating, the dish is adaptable in both size and yield. If you’re serving for smaller parties, get smaller filo sheets or a smaller pan for your pie. (My mother is known for making great food for a lot of people in a short amount of time; you need not strive for that kind of diligence.) Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients; once you get the hang of it, you’ll whip up Pastilla pies for every special occasion. Serve it with Moroccan mint tea and remember to not be stingy with your powdered sugar.
Yield: 12 servings
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp saffron
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3 tsp chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp chopped coriander
- 2 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 9 tbsp (I cup) of butter
- 1 ½ cups of water
- 12 whisked eggs
- 1lb almonds, roasted and chopped
- 1lb sliced onions
- 1lb (24 sheets) of filo pastry
- 2lbs boneless chicken
1. Heat the olive oil and 4 tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan until it starts to bubble. Add the chicken into the pan and cook in medium heat for 8-10 minutes. Add all of the turmeric, saffron, coriander, and black pepper, along with 1 tablespoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon to the chicken. Add 1 ½ cups of water, cover, and let cook for ten minutes or until the chicken is tender (you can test this by using the stick-a-fork-in-it method).
2. Remove the chicken when ready and place separately, leaving the broth in the pan. Cut the chicken into medium chunks and set it aside. Add the sliced onions to the broth, letting them absorb the sauce. Let it sit on medium heat for 15 minutes or until broth is completely absorbed.
3. Spread 1 tablespoon of butter on another pan, add the whisked eggs, parsley and cilantro and make scrambled eggs. Remove when eggs are done and set aside.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mix 4 tablespoons of butter with vegetable oil in a saucepan until melted. You’ll use this mixture throughout the filo layering process. Take a round, aluminum baking pan 13″ in diameter and brush with the vegetable oil and butter. Lay pairs of filo sheets over each side of the pan, alternating so that it is completely covered. Brush them lightly with the oil and butter mixture. Spread the chicken evenly into the pan and season with 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar and ¼ tablespoon of cinnamon.
5. Cover with another layer of filo sheets over the chicken, this time adding one sheet, instead of two, at a time. As you add each layer of pastry sheets, remember to lightly brush them with the oil and butter mixture.
6. Add the onions and scrambled egg mixture into the pan. Cover with the third layer of filo sheets and add the ground almonds into the pan with another tablespoon of powdered sugar and ¼ tablespoon of cinnamon.
7. Fold the sheets in reverse order (lifting from the bottom) so they cover the filling. Finish by adding one last layer of sheets over the top of the pastry, tucking the sides in with your hands to make a circular shape. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until crispy and golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Let cool for five minutes and serve while warm.