An absolute classic in Moroccan cooking, the pastilla, or bastilla is a filo pastry pie filled with chicken or pigeon and infused with spices and sweet dates. Sweet and savoury flavours are often artfully blended in Moroccan cuisine and this recipe is no exception, what with the hint of cinnamon and juicy dates contained within.
The chicken thighs are simmered until falling off the bone, it's then shredded, sieved and piled into it's filo pastry packaging. Don't fret, any remaining liquid can be heated and used as a luscious gravy to serve alongside the pastilla.
The orange within the accompanying salad adds an additional sweetness and the peppery rocket cuts through the richness of the pastilla. If salad isn't your thing, you can also serve this dish with steamed green beans or tenderstem broccoli. For this dish, I used Pink Jinn's wonderful ras al hanout spice blend sourced directly from Morocco, you can purchase your own packet here.
If you're looking for a fresher, lighter alternative this salmon and prawn pastilla recipe is a treat for a summery dinner.
INGREDIENTS (Serves 6)
6 chicken thighs (with skin and bones, about 800g)
100g pitted dates, roughly chopped
3 onions, peeled and sliced finely
1 cinnamon stick
1 dried red chili (seeds removed if you prefer milder flavours)
2 tbsp ras al hanout spice mix
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
250ml chicken stock
pinch of saffron threads
1 packet of filo pastry
60g melted butter
90g wild rocket
2 oranges, peel and pith removed and sliced finely
1 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
Heat your oven to 180° c.
Put a large frying pan on a medium heat. Place the chicken thighs skin-side down in it and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. You won’t need to add any oil to cook it in, as the skin will render a lot of fat. Keep it on a medium heat and allow the skin to crisp and colour. This will take about 10–15 minutes. Once the skin is all crisp and golden, flip the thighs and cook on the other side for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and set aside.
Keep the fat in the frying pan and add the sliced onions and the remaining 1½ teaspoons of salt. Cook the onions until they are soft and starting to go golden. Add further oil as needed to prevent the onions catching. Add the cinnamon stick, dried chili, cumin, turmeric and ras el hanut spice and mix well. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the stock, saffron and bring to the boil. Once boiling, pour over the chicken thighs in the ovenproof pan and add the dates. Cover the pan and place in the center of the oven to cook for 1 hour.
Open the lid carefully and check whether the chicken is fully cooked — it should just fall off the bone. If it is still a little tough, cook for a further 10–15 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
Carefully pour the contents of the pan into a sieve over a bowl. Retain the cooking liquid. Pull the chicken from the bones, discarding them along with any cartilage. Remove the chili and the cinnamon stick. Mix the chicken meat together with the cooked dates and onions, along with just enough liquid to bind the mixture well. Shred the chicken with a fork as needed. Any remaining liquid can be kept to warm through and use as extra sauce/gravy when serving.
Lay the opened packet of phyllo pastry on the table. Carefully peel off the first sheet and use a brush to butter it, then fold into four and set aside (this folded square will give a thicker base to the pastilla). Peel off the next sheet and butter it, cover with another sheet and set aside. Repeat with two more sheets, so that you have two sheets of double thickness.
Place one doubled sheet lengthways inside a cake tin/dutch oven (whatever you're using as a base), put the folded square in the centre of it and lay the other doubled sheet on top at 90° to the first sheet, to make a cross-shape that is thickest in the middle.
Line with the remaining pastry, scrunching at the top but leaving two sheets spare. Fill with the chicken mixture, fold over the corners and use the spare sheets to cover any gaps, delicately scrunching and twisting for affect. Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining butter and place in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes. After this time, turn the tin around so that the pastilla cooks evenly, and bake for a further 10–15 minutes or until the pastry is all golden and crisp. Keep an eye on the pie to make sure the pastry doesn't burn.
Whilst the pastilla is cooking, prepare your orange and capers then toss with the rocket in a salad bowl. Drizzle with a tbsp of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Once the pastilla is cooked, serve immediately, with a jug of the warm cooking liquid as sauce and a fresh green salad on the side.