These chicken stuffed phylo treats set a perfect stage for the beginning of our Moroccan feast: They are pretty, exotic, and feature tastes and aromas that are both 'foreign', and yet immediately accessible. B'stilla can be cooked as a large pie, but these individual pastries are much fancier. The stuffing (which can be made in advance) is a combination of chicken and egg with a sprinkling of almond sugar. The pastry is served dusted with cinnamon and confectioner's sugar. Instead of being very "sweet", however, the dish is rich and earthy. I like it with a dash of harisa on the side to provide yet another layer of complexity to this treasury of tastes.
This dish does take some time to prepare, but the steps are relatively easy, and the payoff is enormous.
Preparation note: The chicken in B'stilla takes much of its flavor from a spice mix called Ras al Hanout which translates to "top of the shop". It isn't hard to make your own if you have a spice mill, but requires a fair amount of ingredients that you may not have on hand. I've provided the recipe, but you can also buy a prepared version on-line or at specialty stores. The advantage to making your own is the wonderful aroma that will pervade the kitchen when you do. It will transport you to Casablanca!
For the almond sugar:
- 1/2 C blanched whole almonds, toasted and cooled
- 3 T granulated sugar
- 1 t cinnamon
For the filling:
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons hot water
- 1 medium onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 C) unsalted butter
- 3/4 t ground ginger
- 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small chicken cut in parts
- 1 1/2 C low-salt chicken broth
- 3 large eggs, beaten lightly
- 1/3 C chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 3 T chopped fresh coriander
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
- 18 sheets (about 1 1/2 packages) phylo (preferably Number 4 ultra-thin)
- confectioners' sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling
- 2 teaspoons ras el hanout
In a small bowl add:
- 1/4 t saffron threads, crumbled
- 2 T hot water
Saute the onions and garlic in a hot pan with 2-3 T olive oil.
As the onion browns, after about 3-4 minutes, add in:
- 3/4 t Ground Ginger
- 1/2 t Black Pepper
- 2 t Ras El Hanout
Reduce the heat and stir for about 3-4 minutes more.
Now, add the following to the onions:
- 1 1/2 C chicken broth
- 2 lbs. boneless chicken thighs
- the saffron-water mixture
Let it cook for 30 minutes over a medium flame. Then let it cool for another half an hour.
In addition to the chicken, the pastry gets filled with a sugar-nut mixture. Combine the following in a food processor:
- 1/2 cup blanched whole almonds, toasted and cooled
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Process the mix until you get a medium powder. Set aside.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the broth. Boil down the liquid until you have just about 1 3/4 C of liquid.
While the liquid is boiling happily away, shred the chicken with your fingers.
In a small bowl beat 3 eggs.
When the liquid has reduced, pour the beaten eggs into the liquid, stirring as you go. The eggs will start to solidify almost at once - let them sit in simmering liquid for about 3 minutes.
Turn off the burner. Pour the liquid through a sieve held over a bowl. After about ten minutes, all of the liquid will have passed through the sieve. Discard the liquid.
Transfer egg mixture to a bowl.
Blend into the bowl the following:
- the shredded chicken
- 1/4 C chopped fresh flat parsley
- 3 T chopped fresh coriander
- the juice of 1/2 Lemon
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Everything up until now could be made in advance of the party. Now, we'll move onto final preparations.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Melt a stick of butter in a dish. Using a pastry brush, butter a baking sheet.
Open up a box of phylo dough and cut it so that you're working with 10 x 11 inch rectangular pieces. Cover the dough with a towel.
Put a piece down on a cooking sheet or pan and paint it with melted butter.
Working fast, so that your phylo doesn't dry out and crack, put down another piece, and butter it as well.
About an inch and a half in from the edge of the left side of the phylo, spoon 1T of the sugar mix into a 2x3" area. Then add 1/3 C of chicken.
Now, sprinkle on a bit more of the sugar, spreading the mix into a rectangle approximately 2"x3".
Roll the phylo. First put the section to the left of the mix over the top. Then, continue rolling.
Now make the roll into a neat package by bending over the top and bottom. If needed, brush in a bit more butter to make the phylo pliable.
Here's our first b'stilla.
Repeat until you have about eight finished and on a buttered baking dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
Sprinkle on Cinnamon and Confectioner's Sugar and serve hot from the oven.
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