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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chicken B'stilla

I adore Moroccan food. The smell that envelopes your house when you are cooking a Morrocan Tagine is, in my books, way up there with Glade Plug Ins, popcorn, and white glue! I also love the way so many Moroccan dishes incorporate dried fruits and nuts (two of my favourite food groups). I have recently invested in a real ceramic Tagine, and a couple of Moroccan cookbooks and I've experimented with some different types of salads, couscous, and stews. I haven't posted any of these recipes yet but I will (someday).

Both of my Moroccan cookbooks have recipes for Chicken B'stilla (pronounced Bisteeya). Everytime I flip through those books, I hang on those pages, drooling over the pictures, but despairing over how complicated (and caloric) the recipe seems. And so, I dog ear the page (again) for another time.

When I was in New Zealand on vacation over the holidays, I was happy to see there was a Moroccan restaurant in Rotorua. I went on-line and noticed that they had Chicken B'stilla on their menu. My heartrate went through the roof (hey, I get excited about food!). This was a perfect opportunity to taste this dish without having to slave over it all day, and without being able to go back for seconds (or fourths)...which I knew was going to be a serious risk...

Sadly, our travel companions weren't so fussy about the whole Moroccan food idea, and so I didn't get to go. I've been mourning that Chicken B'stilla ever since. There aren't too many Moroccan restaurants here in Ottawa, and to my knowledge, none serve Chicken B'stilla.

And so, when I noticed that the 2009 Holiday edition of the LCBO Food and Drink Magazine had a recipe for Chicken B'stilla, I new it was fate. I ran out right away and bought the ingredients before I could come to my senses. I even made one last ditch attempt to subvert my own plans. That morning at breakfast I asked my husband Mario, "so what would you like for dinner tonight, poached plain chicken breasts with boring steamed vegetables and dry boiled potates OR Chicken B'stilla?"

He answers (with conviction) Chicken B'Stilla! And then, "so what exactly IS Chicken B'stilla again?".

This is Chicken B'stilla.

Chicken B'stilla

(Note: the original recipe called for chicken with the skin on, and for 1/2 cup of butter, I used skinless chicken and cut the butter in half and the recipe did not suffer at all from these alterations. At least I don't think it did... I'd have to actually try it the original way to know for sure.... oh geez....)

2 tsp vegetable oil
4 chicken breasts
4 onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp chili flakes
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 cup chicken stock
salt and pepper
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup dates, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
9 sheets phyllo pastry
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted (or more if you run out)
Icing sugar for garnish

1. In a large frying pan with a cover, heat vegetable oil and brown chicken breasts on both sides. Remove to a plate.

2. In the same pan add onions and cook about 10 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, chili flakes and turmeric. Stir for 30 seconds.

3. Place chicken back in pan with onion mixture and add the chicken stock. Cover with lid and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

4. Remove chicken from mixture and let cool. When cool enough to handle shred the meat into bite-size pieces.

5. Stir chicken back into the onion mixture and add eggs, dates, raisins, and almonds. Combine well and season to taste. (Steps 1-5 can be completed ahead of time).

6. Place one sheet of phyllo pastry horizontally on your work surface, brush lightly with melted butter.

7. Place a second sheet on top of this, vertically to form a plus sign (this is symbolic of the clothing sizes you will soon need if you eat to much of this). Brush with butter and place the third sheet diagonally, and so on until 8 sheets are used up. The eighth sheet does not need to be buttered, unless you are a rebel, in which case, I won't stand in your way.

8. Place the sheets in a greased 9-inch springform pan. Fill pastry with chicken mixture and spread out evenly. Enclose by pulling the overhanging pastry up and over the chicken. (Note: This is where I used that 9th sheet of phyllo. My eight sheets did not reach up far enough to fully enclose the filling, so I buttered that ninth sheet, folded it in quarters and placed it on top of the filling, before I folded my other eight sheets in.) Then brush the whole top with melted butter.

9. Bake the B'stilla for 50 minutes at 375F or until pastry is golden and chicken mixture is heated through.

10. Serve hot with sifted icing sugar overtop.

One other funny note. Before I assembled the B'stilla, I lined my springform pan with a circle of parchment paper (I didn't want to take any chances of sticking). When I was cutting the wedges for dinner, I forgot, and cut right through the parchment. So each person got a little triangle of parchment paper on their dinner plate underneath their B'stilla. When I was doing the dishes, I noticed that mine was the only plate that still the had paper on it! (I guess I've trained my family well not to complain about my cooking!!!)

"mmmmm.... parchment paper"