Thursday, March 12, 2009

B’stillas - Moroccan Chicken and Almond Pies

This unusual first course features Morocco's signature spice blend - ras el hanout. Keep it on hand and use as a delicious spice rub for pork loin, chops, fish, shrimp and vegetables.

The traditional b'stilla is a very large savory pie, usually made with either pigeon or chicken. The pie includes numerous layers of golden paper-thin pastry leaves and features the signature spice blend for Moroccan cuisine – ras el hanout.

For home chefs wanting to make an easier to serve version, we’ve changed the traditional large pie into individual eggroll shaped pies. The origins of the B’stilla are rooted in Arabian cuisine, which often mixes meat with spices and then encases the savory filling in pastry. The delicate pastry sheets or phyllo dough, are believed to have originated in Persia. Spices play a big part in Moroccan cooking. This legendary spice mixture, ras el hanout, translates to "top of the shop." Each chef has his or her own version of this savory condiment.

For the almond sugar:
½ Cup Slivered Almonds, toasted lightly and cooled
3 Tbs. Sugar
1 tsp. Fresh Ground Cinnamon

For the filling:
¼ tsp. Saffron Threads, crumbled
2 Tbs. Hot Water
1 Medium Onion, chopped (about 1 ¼ cups)
2 Garlic Cloves, cut into thin slices
¾ Cup Unsalted Butter (1 ½ sticks)
¾ tsp. Ground Ginger
2 tsp. ras el hanout
½ tsp. Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 Whole Chicken (2 to 3 lbs.), cut into 8 pieces
1½ Cups Chicken Broth, preferable homemade, or at least low sodium
3 Large Eggs, beaten lightly
1/3 Cup Chopped Fresh Italian Parsley (leaves only)
3 Tbs. Chopped Fresh Cilantro (leaves and tender stems)
1 ½ Tbs. Fresh Lemon Juice, or to taste
18 Sheets (about 1 ½ packages) Phyllo

Garnish: Confectioners' Sugar and Cinnamon for sprinkling, additional ras el hanout

To make the almond sugar: In a food processor grind fine almonds, granulated sugar, and cinnamon. Almond sugar may be made 1 day ahead and kept covered in a cool dark place.

To make the filling: In small bowl combine saffron with hot water and let stand 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, sauté onion in 3 tablespoons butter over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, about 4 minutes. Add in garlic slivers and cook for about one minute more.

Reduce heat to moderate and add ginger, ras el hanout and pepper. Cook mixture, stirring, 3 minutes.

Add chicken parts, chicken broth and saffron mixture. Bring mixture just up to a simmer, reduce heat to medium low and cover pan. Continue cooking, turning the chicken once, until chicken is very tender and cooked through, about 25 to 35 minutes. Let chicken stand in cooking liquid off heat 30 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate, reserving cooking liquid and solids.

When chicken is cool enough to handle, shred meat, discarding skin and bones. Measure reserved cooking liquid and solids and if necessary boil, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 3/4 cups. Reduce heat to moderate and add eggs in a stream, whisking. Cook mixture, stirring, until eggs are set, about 3 minutes. Remove kettle from heat and pour egg mixture into a coarse sieve set over a bowl. Let mixture drain undisturbed 10 minutes before discarding liquid.

Transfer egg mixture to a bowl. Stir in chicken, parsley, cilantro, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and chill. Filling may be made 1 day ahead and kept chilled, covered.

Preheat oven to 425°F. and butter 2 large shallow baking pans.

In a small saucepan melt remaining unsalted butter (9 tablespoons) and keep warm but not hot. Cut phyllo sheets in half lengthwise and stack between 2 sheets wax paper. Cover wax paper sheets with a slightly damp kitchen towel. On a work surface arrange a half sheet of phyllo with short side facing you and brush with melted butter. Use a silicone basting brush if possible. Repeat process, layering 3 more half sheets of phyllo on top of the first layer, buttering each sheet.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon almond sugar on short side of phyllo nearest you to cover about 2 ½” by 4” area, leaving a 1-inch border on 3 edges. Put 1/3 cup chicken mixture over almond sugar and spread out slightly. Top chicken mixture with 1 more tablespoon almond sugar and roll up filling in phyllo, folding in sides after first roll (similar to making a burrito or egg roll). Transfer b'stilla immediately to prepared buttered baking dishes, cover with wax paper and slightly damp kitchen towel. Place pan(s) in fridge while making additional rolls.

Form additional b'stillas with remaining phyllo, butter, almond sugar, and chicken mixture, chilling each b'stilla as it is made. B'stillas may be prepared up to this point 4 hours ahead and kept chilled, covered lightly with plastic wrap once cold.

Bake chilled b'stillas in oven until tops and ends are puffed and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool b'stillas slightly on a rack. Sprinkle b'stillas with confectioners' sugar, additional ras el hanout and freshly grated cinnamon; serve warm.

Ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend):
½ tsp. Aniseed
1 tsp. Fennel Seeds
8 Whole Allspice Berries
Seeds from 8 Cardamom Pods
8 Whole Cloves
15 Whole Black Peppercorns
1 Stick Cinnamon, broken in pieces
1 Tbs. Sesame Seeds
1 tsp. Coriander Seeds
½ tsp. Cumin Seeds
Pinch Dried Red Pepper Flakes
Pinch Ground Mace
1 Tbs. Ground Ginger
1 tsp. Freshly Ground Nutmeg

To make the ras el hanout:
In a spice grinder or cleaned coffee grinder grind fine aniseed, fennel seeds, allspice berries, cardamom seeds, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, sesame seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seed, and red pepper flakes, In a small bowl stir together ground spice mixture, mace, ginger, and nutmeg until combine well. Ras el hanout may be stored in a tightly closed jar in a cool dark place up to 6 months. Makes about ¼ cup.