Pastilla with chicken and almonds

by mimithorisson

Sometimes there is a certain ‘je ne sais quoi‘ that triggers my appetite for a special dish, something sweet, savoury and out of the ordinary. Perhaps it’s the combination of the sun, bright coloured flowers and the smell of my tiaré sun oil – whatever it is, it sets the tone to my hunger game leading me on a quest for the perfect dish of the day. My palate led me to a pastilla – I love the cake aspect of it, especially the delicate mixture of savoury and sweet combined with luscious almonds, cinnamon and orange blossom.

Pastilla is a ceremonial Moroccan dish, especially during weddings and Ramadan months. There are so many versions you can make, one of the most famous ones being the pigeon pastilla. This melt in your mouth dish is full of surprises, covered and layered with overly satisfying crunchy sensations.

It’s such a beautiful dish to serve that I couldn’t resist adding a few fuchsia flowers to the plate – the colours match the mood – oriental bliss. As a side dish, I fried a few sliced patty pan squashes – they are in season and I cooked them in a persillade – a large handful of chopped parsley, olive oil, two cloves of garlic (sliced), salt and pepper – the best things in life are simple!

Ingredients:(For 6 people)

2 chicken breasts and 2 chicken drumsticks (I use these parts because I find the meat leaner than chicken legs)
2 yellow onions (chopped finely)
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp olive oil
1 saffron dose
1 and 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger root, grated
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ras el hanout (Moroccan spice – available in most supermarkets or speciality stores)
1 tsp sugar
4 eggs
A handful of fresh coriander, chopped
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Almond preparation:
250 g blanched almonds
3 tbsp orange blossom water
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
50 g sugar

Assembling the pastilla:
About 10 sheets of brick/ filo pastry sheets
100 g melted butter
1 egg yolk

To decorate the pastilla:
Icing/confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Ground cinnamon for dusting
In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter. Add the chicken (having trimmed excess fat), brown on all sides. Set aside. Add 2 more tbsp olive oil and cook the onions for 3 minutes, then add the ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, ras el hanout and saffron. Fry for 4 more minutes. Return the chicken to the pan, add water just below the chicken level, half of the chopped coriander, chopped parsley, season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the almonds on a pan on medium heat until almonds are slightly golden. Let it cool. Chop them coarsely or place in a food processor, grinding them in several quick blitz. Add sugar, orange blossom water and cinnamon. Set aside.

After 20 minutes, take the chicken out of the pan, leaving the sauce to reduce by two thirds (you don’t want to use too much sauce as the pastilla will be too soggy). On a plate, scrape off all the chicken meat, discard the bones. Chop meat to a ‘crumble’, or, as I do, place in food processor and pulse until you get the meat crumbly. Pour beaten eggs to the sauce in the pan, stirring constantly. Add a small handful of coriander. The sauce should be thick and creamy. Set aside.

Preheat your oven at 180°C/ 400 F.

Dip brush in melted butter and brush cake mould all over. Line a layer of filo sheet, brush generously with butter, add 2-3 more layer, making sure to always brush each sheet generously with butter (it will make your pastilla golden and crunchy). You basically want to line a solid base for the pastilla.
Start with a layer of chicken, then one sheet of buttered filo pastry. Proceed with a layer of sauce, then add another sheet of filo. Finally, add a layer of almonds, add three sheets of buttered filo pastry and tuck them well to seal the pastilla. Brush generously with egg yolk. Place in the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden. Remove, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon. Serve warm.