Morocco - the very name conjures images of spices and souks, tangerine coloured scarves (I don't know, this is my fantasy ok?), mint tea and camels. So exotic, and so, so far removed from where I am now. It's one country I'd dearly love to visit, but since it doesn't look as if I'm going to get there anytime soon, at least my tummy can go on a little bit of a culinary odyssey.
I can't remember where I'd first heard about b'stilla (or bastilla, pastilla, or any other variation that sounds like it), but when faced with the challenge of creating a classic dish, I knew immediately this is what I would make.
B'stilla is a type of pastry/ pie usually made with pigeon, but I just. cannot. go. there. (*cough* flying rats *cough*, sorry pigeon fanciers). Chicken was what I went with. And instead of the traditional warqa pastry, which I didn't have time to attempt, I used store-bought phyllo pastry.
When I started looking for b'stilla recipes - I discovered that no two recipes are alike. However, most of them involved a filling of chicken (or pigeon), egg and spices, mixed with almonds, sugar and cinnamon.
Inside the bastilla - YUM!
So I picked the recipe from Epicurious to try, because it involved the added challenge of making the ras-el-hanout spice mix from scratch.
This is how my b'stilla making experience went:
Prepped spice mix ingredients, then discovered that mortar and pestle broken, resorted to processing the spices in food processor. Loooooooooong wait later, managed to sift enough ground bits to use in recipe. Stored the rest of the shardy spices in a jar to be ground later. Note to self - go get new mortar and pestle.
Spices ready to be ground for ras el hanout (cardamom, aniseed, fennel, allspice, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, cinnamon stick, sesame seeds) - I left out the red pepper flakes and added a tiny bit of paprika and pinch of cayenne pepper instead. And forgot the pepercorns but just added more pepper when seasoning the dish. On the lower right is ground ginger to be added to the dish too.
Lightly dusted out the processor, made almond sugar using fried almonds, sugar (I subbed icing sugar for caster sugar) and cinnamon (as per Epicurious recipe linked above).
Fried almonds, ready to be turned into almond sugar
Next step: cook the chicken filling. I used 4 chicken legs with the skin removed. This part was actually very simple. It's a bit like making a spicy, wonderful smelling casserole. First some onion is browned, then garlic and spices added, then the chicken, saffron liquid and a little stock are put in. The chicken is simmered until tender. Here, I deviated slightly from the given recipe. I removed the chicken to a bowl to cool, then shredded it and discarded the bones (rather than leaving it to steep in the stock - I'd cooked it for longer than suggested so it was full of flavour).
The most expensive spice in the world
Then it was time to add the egg. Reading this part of the recipe confused me somewhat but after checking out this link, I knew that the eggs needed to be cooked until scrambled. At first I found it hard to judge how much liquid was left in the pan, and when I added the beaten eggs in, I panicked because it looked like soup! I turned the heat up and kept stirring and luckily it all came together. Phew!
After the egg was drained and cooled, it was mixed into the chicken, along with diced herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice.
The fillings, to be mixed together - cooked chicken, scrambled egg mixture, diced herbs
Now it was time to fold. After checking out these three links (photo essay of bastilla making,video of seafood bastilla,step by step cooking school photos it was actually quite easy. Make sure the phyllo pastry is completely at room temp or it will be brittle and crack. Don't skimp on the butter and don't overload the pastry, use only 3 or 4 sheets so the outside gets golden and wonderfully crispy.
The traditional way of making b'stilla seems to be to fry it. I tried one fried, and one baked. The fried one went a little oopsie, I didn't judge the temperature of the oil well (rushing remember?), and accidentally overdid the outside a bit, then had to pop it in the oven to make sure the filling was warmed through. To check for filling doneness, stick the tip of a knife in and test the temperature - this explains the slashes in my pastry.
Fried bastilla -oopsie
The baked version came out with a slightly soggy base at first, but I tipped it out onto a baking tray and put it back into the oven to rebake - ahh, perfection! Crisp and golden outside, moist, fragrant filling, with a surprising yet pleasant taste from the sweet almond and sugar topping. I was very impressed with the b'stilla, and although I have not had the "authentic" version to compare it to, one bite into it and I was indeed transported to the Morocco of my mind. We managed to polish off both the pastries for dinner.
Inside the bastilla - YUM!
It's a dish I'd definitely make again but I think I'll leave the cinnamon patterning on top to the experts:)
Thanks for reading!
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