A savory/sweet Moroccan meat pie.
A traditional bastila of Fes is an enormous flaky pigeon pie never less than twenty inches in diameter. Beneath the perfectly crisped pastry top, which is covered with cinnamon and sugar, are layers of shredded cooked squab, quail, or chicken. It is a balance of savory flavors and warm-spices, with velvety egg woven throughout. The filling can be made up to a day in advance, and assembled and baked the day of.
Adapted from The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert
6 bone-in chicken thighs (about 6 ounces each), or 6 semi-boned large quails
3 tablespoons saffron water (see below)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 two-inch soft cinnamon sticks
½ large red onion, grated
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
½ cup clarified butter
¼ cup vegetable oil
13 ounces blanched whole almonds
⅓ cup confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting
1½ teaspoons ground Ceylon cinnamon, plus more for dusting
¼ cup tablespoons fresh lemon juice
9 large eggs
8 ounces phyllo pastry
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
12 inch deep-dish pizza pan
14 inch round baking tray
Place the chicken thighs or quail in a large flameproof casserole. Mix the saffron water in a bowl with the ginger, black pepper, turmeric, nutmeg and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Toss with the chicken or quail and set aside for 10 minutes.
Lightly bruise the cinnamon sticks. Add the cinnamon sticks, grated onion, parsley, cilantro, half the butter and 1 ½ cups cold water to the casserole. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes for quail, or 45 minutes for chicken.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet and add the almonds, frying them for 3-5 minutes or until they are lightly brown. Drain on kitchen paper. When the almonds are cool, set aside 18 of them for the garnish, and coarsely grind the remainder in a food processor. Combine the ground almonds with 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar and 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon. Set aside.
Remove the bird from the casserole and place it on a clean work surface, then remove and discard the cinnamon sticks. When the chicken or quail is cool enough to handle, remove all the meat from the bones and roughly shred it with your hands, discarding the skin.
Bring the cooking liquid to a boil and reduce, uncovered, to about 11/3 cups. Add the lemon juice. Beat the eggs in a bowl until frothy, then slowly pour them into the simmering sauce, stirring continuously in one direction, until the eggs cook and set (they should become ‘curdy’ in texture). Add salt to taste. Scrape the mixture into a strainer set over a bowl and let drain.
At this point, the chicken or quail and the egg mixture can be cooled, placed in separate containers and kept in the fridge overnight. If finishing the dish the next day, wrap the ground almond mixture and store in a cool place, though not in the fridge.
About 1 hour before serving, preheat the oven to 425°F.
Fold 4 phyllo leaves in half, place them on a baking sheet and bake them for 30 seconds or until crisp and golden. Or, gently fry the folded leaves in a lightly oiled skillet for 30 seconds.
Unroll the phyllo leaves and place them under a damp tea towel to prevent them from drying out. Warm the remaining clarified butter in a small saucepan. Brush some of the butter over the bottom and sides of a 12 inch deep-dish pizza pan or similar round tin. Cover the bottom of the pan with one pastry leaf.
Arrange six or seven more phyllo leaves, so each leaf covers a portion of the bottom of the pan and hangs over the sides, until the entire bottom of the pan is covered. Place another leaf in the center of the pan. Lightly brush the overhanging phyllo leaves with butter so they don’t dry out. Place some of the chicken or quail around the edges of the pan, then work towards the center so that the pastry is covered with an even layer of poultry. Cover the chicken or quail with the well drained egg mixture and then the baked or fried pastry leaves.
Sprinkle the almond and sugar mixture over the pastry. Cover with two of the remaining pastry leaves. Brush every leaf lightly with butter. Fold the overlapping leaves over the top to envelop the pie. Lightly brush the edges with some of the beaten egg yolk and place the remaining two leaves, overlapping, on top. Fold the edges under the pie, as if you were tucking in bed sheets.
Brush the phyllo with butter and the remaining beaten egg yolk. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
Remove the pie from the oven, shake the pan to loosen it and run a knife around the edges. If necessary, tilt the pan to pour off excess butter, which should be reserved. Carefully invert the pie and turn it out onto a buttered 14 inch round baking tray. Brush the pie with any reserved butter and return to the oven to bake for a further 10 minutes to crisp what was the underside of the pastry.
Remove the pie from the oven. Tilt to pour off any excess butter. Put a large serving platter over the pie and, holding them firmly together, invert. This is done because the traditional upper filling is always the almond layer. Dust the top of the pie with a little confectioners’ sugar, then run crisscrossing lines of cinnamon over the top. Decorate with the reserved whole almonds and serve very hot.
½ teaspoon saffron threads
Dry ½ teaspoon of crumbled saffron strands in a warm – not hot – pan. Crush the dried strands in a mortar, then soak them in 1 cup hot water, leave to cool and store in a small jar in the fridge.
The saffron water will keep for up to a week.