Thursday, October 18, 2012

B’stilla, Moroccan “Pigeon Pie”

I got over my fear of Phyllo
and made this sensational pie.
         I’ve been staring at a recipe for this pie for months now.  As appetizing as it looked, the main barrier to getting it made was a terror of working with Phyllo dough.  As is well known, I am not the baker in our house and I leave pastry making completely in Andrew’s brilliant hands.  Here, there was no pastry-making involved just the purchase of ready-made Phyllo from the supermarket freezer.  When I finally got up the nerve to make my B’stilla, it turned out all the trepidation was unnecessary.  I passed my Phyllo test with flying colors.  And you can too.  And once you do, you’ll be able to taste this aromatic combination of sweet and salty flavors under a crisp cover of pastry topped with powdered sugar.  And fear not, no pigeon is necessary to make an authentic B’Stilla.

You say 'Pigeon", I say "Squab".
         The actual spelling is Pastilla but it has many variations all pronounced ‘bastiyya’.  This meat pie is elaborate in its ingredients but not at all difficult to make.  The traditional recipe called for the meat filling to be made of squab, fledgling pigeons.  You may be horrified to know that the ancestors of those urban dwellers and crumb scavengers you see all over the city were brought to this country to feed the European population.  Yes, the Rock Pigeon you see on the street was, and still is, the identical species to the one that makes it way to the table as ‘squab’.  Today, however, B’stilla is more commonly made with chicken and not for any aesthetic reason. It is simply because shredded chicken is so much easier to come by.  B’stilla can also be filled with fish or offal as a filling.  But today’s recipe uses ordinary boneless chicken thighs. 
An Authentic B'stilla 
         This is one of those recipes where making the filling a day in advance of baking the pie brings out its full flavor in the finished pie.  First the chicken is browned in oil.  Then it is slow cooked in broth and spices and shredded.  After a layover in the fridge, the meat filling is and topped with a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon and sugar.  The traditional recipe uses a dough called ‘warka’ which is said to be thinner than Phyllo.  How this is remotely possible, I have no clue.  But Phyllo seems to be an excellent substitute.  B’stilla is most often served as starter at special meals.  I think it makes an excellent center of the plate item for supper or, like quiche, at lunch time.  As you can see, a traditional B’stilla was a free-standing pie. Ours uses our Emile Henri baking dish to great effect.  Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for B’stilla, Morrocan “Pigeon Pie” made with Chicken.

2 tablespoons oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped, use the salted and roasted kind
1/3 cup golden raisin
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 eggs
1/2 cup light sour cream
12 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Heat oven to 375ºF.

Heat 1 tablespoons oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add onions; cook and stir 5 minute or until crisp-tender. Stir in turmeric; cook 1 minute Transfer to large bowl.

Add remaining oil and the chicken to skillet; cook 5 to 8 minute or until chicken is evenly browned, turning occasionally. Brown in batches if your pan is not large enough to hold all chicken. Remove from skillet; add to onions.

Add nuts, raisins, parsley and cinnamon to chicken/onion mix; mix lightly.

Whisk eggs and sour cream until well blended.

Allow the Phyllo dough to defrost overnight in the refrigerator with the filling.   Follow the package instructions for using the phyllo dough.
The stuff dries out rapidly and so it’s best to keep the 12 sheets you need for this recipe on a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper covered with a dampened dish towel.  Invert the pie plate and use it as a template to cut out 12 rounds of phyllo, covering the cut pieces with your towel the minute you’ve done so.

Either grease a 9 inch pie plate or spray it with non stick cooking spray.

Put the first phyllo sheet in the base of the pie plate and brush with melted butter.  Continue with another 3 phyllo sheets extending edges of sheets up side of the plate. Repeat to make second phyllo stack; place crosswise over first stack.

Fill phyllo crust with chicken mixture, then egg mixture. Place the remaining phyllo sheets on top of the egg mixture brushing each with butter as you layer then on top of each other. Butter the entire top

Bake 50 to 55 minute or until golden brown. Cool 15 minutes.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar  and serve.  This will serve 4 for dinner, more for lunch. 


  1. As always your post is interesting and makes me hungry.

    1. Thanks Lauren! I think you'd really like the flavors or this pie. And guess what? Next week is Texas week on CTF!

  2. I got this from an old friend who is having trouble posting on our comments page. It's something to do with an RSS feed but if I understood what that meant, I would be able to fix it. But here's what my friend Susan had to say about this post: "I wanted to say "thank you" for this recipe. My daughter and future son-in-law took us to a Moroccan restaurant in Paris in June where I sampled pigeon pie. It was the best thing I had to eat in all of Paris! Can't wait to make this. Merci!

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