Friday, January 1, 2010

Chicken Bastela

I spent New Year's day with Fatima, preparing the traditional Moroccan Chicken Bastela. (MORE traditional would be Pigeon Bastela, which I have eaten.) This dish is sweet and savory, and gave me newfound appreciation for the work Moroccan women put into their cuisine! (In America, it would be much easier to prepare because of the ingredients we have in the grocery stores). I couldn't resist writing this recipe in the "Moroccan" style to paint a picture of the amount of work it takes, and to share a little of Moroccan life with you. Fatima and I started by going to the market at about 9:00 am. We finished the Bastela four hours later...

Two things surprised me the most. First, we purchased our filo dough (feuille pour pastilla) from a man making each layer by hand in the market. We stood and waited while he made each fine layer, and payed a tiny amount of money for the whole thing. I was also amazed by how we made the almonds. I'm used to purchasing the almonds as I like and dumping them in the recipe. Not so... as you'll read.

I hope you enjoy reading the recipe as I do, and I do hope you try to prepare this dish. It's delightful, and shouldn't take you as long as it took us.

Chicken or Pigeon Bastela (or Pastilla)
As taught by Fatima, January 1, 2010

4 onions, minced or grated
1 small chicken (2 kilos) or a pigeon
1 bunch parsley, minced
2 or more cups of almonds (blanched, if possible)
2 cups yellow raisins
3 eggs
1/3 kilo feuille or filo dough
2 generous pinches of saffron
3 T cinnamon (or to taste)
2/3 cup sugar (or to taste)
½ cup butter
Powdered sugar and cinnamon for garnish

Moroccan Process
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (392 degrees F)

Visit the market, purchasing a live chicken to be killed and plucked. While the chicken is getting plucked, visit the feuille (filo) man and wait while he makes 11 thin layers of the stuff by hand. Pay only 10 dirhams for the feuille.

Cut the chicken into six pieces, soak in salt to clean. Rinse, soak again.
Add chicken, ½ onion (not sliced), and water in a saucepan. Boil until chicken is fully cooked.

In the meantime, wash and boil the almonds for a few minutes. Rinse, drain, and remove the brown skins from each almond.

Mince the rest of the onions.

Drain chicken, reserving the broth. Simmer the broth, some water, ½ tsp salt, and all of the minced onions. Keep covered.

Pull the meat of the chicken bones. Throw away the ½ onion it was boiled with.

Sort through the raisins, removing hard bits. Drain and scrub the raisins with water.

Fry the almonds in hot oil, stirring frequently until browned. Move the almonds to a plate to cool and drip (save the oil in the pan for later).

Put the almonds between two flexible cutting boards (or two towels) and pound with a hammer until crushed.

When the onions are very tender, add chicken and turn the heat up to medium. Keep uncovered from now on so the excess water evaporates. This mixture should be dry by the end.

Soak saffron in a little hot water. Once the water is saturated with color, add the water to chicken. Soak same saffron in more hot water, and repeat.

Add raisins, leftover frying oil (from almonds), cinnamon, sugar, crushed almonds, and minced parsley to chicken. Keep the chicken mixture at low to medium heat. By this time the mixture should be dry.

Wash the eggs. Scramble the eggs in a bowl and stir into the chicken mixture. Cover for 1 minute and stir some more. Bring to medium heat.

Melt butter (in Arabic: zubdah) and pour onto cookie sheet, spreading all over.

Put a layer of feuille overlapping each edge of the cookie sheet (the layers should overlap in the center). Layer three pieces of feuille in the center, with butter in between.

Add the chicken mixture to the top of the feuille and spread in a large circle almost to the edge of the cookie sheets (there should be plenty of feuille over the sides).
Fold each side over the chicken, adding butter to each fold. Add one more feuille over the top, tucking underneath the roll. Spread remaining butter on the top.

Cook for about 30 minutes, or until browned and fragrant.

Garnish with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

American Version
Buy deboned chicken breasts and drumsticks
Buy pre-made filo dough
Buy blanched and diced almonds (might still need to fry for flavor)
Buy clean raisins, eggs, and almonds that don’t need washing



  1. lol WOW, are we spoiled. I have a feeling the Moroccan version is a good deal more flavorful though...

    I still have not made the tagine dish but since I just got my first paycheck from my new job, methinks tis time to cook again. Tell Fatima that your American friends are cooking all her recipes!


  2. I love it! Beautiful pictures of beautiful food. I'm amazed how neatly she kitchen would be a disaster after all that!

  3. I've had wonderful meals of Bastilla in Marrakech and also at a restaurant in S.F. You've inspired me to try to make this at home. I'm wondering how much water you use to cook the chicken/pigeon? Is it important for the chicken/pigeon to be immersed in water or do I try to use as little water as possible since ultimately the aim is to end up with a dry meat mixture? Thanks.

  4. Hi, fleurdesal,
    Thanks for reading! I do hope you're able to replicate the Bastilla you had in Marrakech; no doubt it was delicious. You are right- the aim is to end up with a dry meat mixture. I tried making this in the US before moving to Morocco, and I didn't know that fact... ended up needing a casserole dish.

    I referred to Moroccan Cooking (Latifa Bennani-Smires) to make sure I could answer your question adequately, since my cooking style is to just feel it out. Bennani-Smires suggests to add water later only if there isn't liquid in the bird before it's cooked; I guess you can watch and see if it's creating its own broth.

    I hope this helps! Do let me know how it turns out!