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Sunday, 9 January 2011

Chicken Pastilla


I have a fairly adventurous palate, within reason, of course, so I love to try new things with what would seem odd flavour combinations.
I rooted out one of my little cookery books, that was a secondhand find, when I remembered a Moroccan recipe for a pastilla. Pronounced 'bast-eeya', a pastilla is a pie of usually sweetly spiced pigeon, almond, eggs and herbs encased in crispy filo pastry and dusted with icing sugar. Sounds weird? Actually it is rather good, although I used chicken instead of pigeon. I had pigeon once and didn't like it much, so have shied away from it ever since. I'm still looking for an opportunity to be convinced that pigeon is nice without having to pay for it.

The combination of fragrant spices including cinnamon and sugar is surprisingly agreeable and don't be put off by the scrambled egg either as it turns out less eggy than you'd expect. The texture is soft and moist and carries the flavours really well.

This recipe is very much my own adaptation of Fettouma Benikrane's from her Moroccan Cooking book. Firstly after reading the original recipe through, I realised that it would feed hordes of hungry people, so I had to scale everything down to make it more suitable for a normal family.

It's great little book, but I think it definitely embraces the Moroccan approach to good hospitality as the quantities are quite gargantuan in some cases. I also have to read the recipes very carefully as they're laid out in an unconventional way and it could be easy to miss something.
Hopefully my recipe makes things simpler to follow.

Serves 4
Ingredients
2oz flaked almonds
1oz butter, plus more for melting
3 onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely crushed
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
quarter tsp ground cloves
quarter tsp ground nutmeg
half tsp cinnamon
quarter tsp turmeric
salt and pepper
4 skinless and boneless chicken thighs
juice half lemon
2 tbsp sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
handful flat-leaved parsley, chopped
handful coriander, chopped
6 sheets filo pastry
icing sugar to dust

Essential equipment
One 8 inch springform cake tin.

Method
In a dry frying pan, on the hob, gently toast the almonds, stirring them occasionally, taking care not to burn them. They should take on a light brown colour. Set aside.

In a large pan, gently melt the butter and drop in the onions and garlic and cook very gently until soft.
Stir in the grated ginger and spices, season with salt and pepper and then add the chicken thighs, stirring them round to coat in the mixture. Add enough water to just cover the contents, bring to the boil and then simmer gently for about 30 minutes until the chicken is tender.
Remove the chicken using tongs or a slotted spoon and set aside to cool.

Keep simmering the onion and spice mix until it has reduced in quantity a little and become thicker. Add the sugar and lemon juice, taste and add more seasoning if you wish.
Next add the beaten eggs, parsley and coriander to the onion mixture and cook gently, stirring all the while. over a gentle heat for about 4-5 minutes until the mixture is scrambled. Leave to cool

Preheat the oven to Gas 6. Butter the cake tin.

Place the filo pastry on a board and brush the first sheet with melted butter. Line the tin with the filo pastry sheet so it fits well inside and has the surplus overhanging the outside. Continue with the remaining three sheets, brushing with melted butter and laying the second at 90 degrees to the first and so on, so that all the pastry covers the tin and is well overlapped.

Shred the chicken and lay in the bottom of the pastry case.
Add half the toasted almonds, crushing them through your hands as you do so.
Spoon in the scrambled egg mix and top with the rest of the crush almonds.
Bring up the overlapping pastry and form over the top of the pie in a random fashion.
Brush the top with plenty of melted butter.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and heated through.

Take the pastilla out of the oven and leave to rest in its tin for 5 minutes before serving.
Remove the pastilla from the tin and dust with icing sugar using a sieve.

Cut into wedges and serve.

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010

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