I was standing in a dark well appointed bar. The gentleman beside me asked for a whiskey of some forgotten type in a proper British accent. I asked him if he was the same person I met in the tea room earlier that week. He said yes and I asked how he was enjoying Marrakech. He told me “I might as well be on f#%&@#g Mars”. I couldn’t have agreed more. Your first visit overwhelms you with sights and sounds unlike you can experience outside of the Muslim world. The bartender handed me my glass of wine and I settled in the small alcove as olive wood burned in the adjacent fireplace of the speak easy. Hidden in the old Jewish quarter inside the walls of the old city, you just need to know which door to knock on and you find yourself in a bar that caters to tourists that have had their fill of the hot sweet mint tea that is served in every corner of the medina.
That evening we dined at Riad Kniza, a beautifully restored 18th century palace inside the ancient walls. The meal we were served was an experience which i will never forget. Each of the six courses stood out on beautifully on their own, but created a oeuvre of perfect traditional Moroccan cuisine. The chicken b’stilla that was served secondly always stands out in my memory as one of best parts of the entire trip.
There are two steps in making a b’stilla. The first is preparing the meat filling, and secondly assembling the pastry. I enjoy preparing this dish for a variety of different gatherings. It stands well on its own as an entree, makes a fantastic appetizer, and can stand beside any comfort food as a cold snack. To have it on ready, I typically prepare double or quadruple chicken and freeze each portion in quart plastic containers. It is then just a matter of preparing the pastry portion, defrosting the filling and baking for 20 minutes.
1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped white onions
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1⁄2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric
1⁄4 teaspoon saffron, ground
2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups chicken stock or broth
7 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 preserved lemon, minced or 3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1⁄2 cups slivered almonds
1 lb phyllo dough, thawed
1 cup butter
1. In a dutch oven, add chicken onions and dry ingredients. Dry marinate for 4 hours up to 24 in refrigerator.
2. Put dutch oven on stove. Add chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer covered until thigh bones can be removed without work.
3. Remove the chicken and onions from the skillet and shred when cool on cutting board and set aside.
4. Add the lemon to reserved liquids and bring to a boil. Reduce until you have one cup.
5. Slowly add honey and then eggs. Wisk continually until liquid thickens and coats the back of a spoon
6. Season with salt and pepper as needed to taste.
7. Return onions and chicken to dutch oven, add herbs. Mix thoroughly. May be refrigerated up to one day.
*At this point you can save and freeze the chicken mixture. I find the above recipe makes about 1 quart.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
9. Butter a 9″x2″ deep round pan and begin applying filo sheets. Drape them over the edges as you work out from the center about 6 deep in all areas. Brush each layer with melted butter.
10. Add a layer of almonds to the bottom of the pan. Fill with the chicken mixture. Top the chicken with remaining almonds.
11. Add filo in layers on top of mixture so they slightly hang over the edge over lapping the lower layers, buttering each layer.
12. Gently roll/fold the excess filo onto the edges. Top with cinnamon and sugar. Don’t worry about crumbling. It will produce a nice flaky appearance.
13. Bake for 20 minutes then check to make sure the edges are not getting too brown. If it starting to get too brown tent with a sheet of foil.
14. Remove pastry from oven and allow to cool 15 minutes on a cooling rack.
15. Place a cutting board over the pie and invert quickly to remove pan then invert back onto serving platter.
16 Garnish with bouquet of parsley.