Old Town Alexandria and Moroccan Chicken Bastilla

This dish is a real show-stopper.

This recipe’s been hiding in the draft stage for a long time. Why? Because it is a time consuming recipe, so naturally, it took a long time to transcribe and put it into my own words. But finally, I did it! And I promise you, if you want to a) really impress some folks at a potluck and/or b) try something new, tasty, savory AND sweet, then it will totally be worth the time and effort. Therefore, I (finally) present to you, Moroccan Chicken Bastilla.

 The torpedo inside the converted Torpedo Factory, an active artists’ studio in Alexandria  

Last summer, ‘Chefski and I went to Alexandria, VA for a day just to get away from the capital and stroll around Old Town. We sat by the waterfront to people-watch, visited the Torpedo Factory, and ended our stay with a delicious Moroccan dinner at a restaurant that brings to mind phrases like “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…” and “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.” Gold-tinged and tasseled  pillows, warm-hued walls, and a belly-dancer set the tone of travel; you really felt like you might have just left Virginia and were somewhere halfway around the world. 

Waning clay moon  


We ordered a three-course meal, and you can imagine our surprise when the first plate to come out was a powdered sugar and cinnamon covered confection. Is this dessert? After one bite we were surprised yet again — there’s meat inside! And almonds! And it was so delicious! All I remember aside from the bastilla was an amazing traditional soup, which I will soon be trying to replicate, but the main dish? What main dish? The Bastilla stole the show, and we knew we’d want to make it ourselves. 

And we did — for an end-of-summer going-away potluck for ‘Chefski and another dear lab friend, both of whom were off to start mudphud training in the fall. So you see, friends, this was kinda the right time to bring this recipe back, since it’s graduation/ bon voyage season. I guess my timing wasn’t to terrible after all. 

Moroccan Chicken Bastilla

Adapted from this fantastic recipe ‘Chefski found online. Check out the link; the chef, Alia, made a great step-by-step video that was essential in helping us recreate the dish.    
For the Chicken Filling
1 whole chicken (~2lbs) (I’m pretty sure we got an approximately equivalent amount of thighs and breast… most likely because they were on sale)
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 cup of parsley, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons vegetable/corn oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
a large pinch of saffron (if you have it; I didn’t)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups water

For the Egg Filling
6 whole eggs

For the Almond Filling
10 oz package of blanches almonds
4 oz powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons orange blossom water
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For Assembling

Phyllo dough (be sure to cover the layers with a damp towel as you work — it gets dry and becomes very fragile when exposed to air)
melted butter (the recipe says 1 stick, but I’m pretty sure I made do with 1/2 stick)
1 egg yolk

First make the chicken filling: 
1. Heat oil in a large pan on high heat. Add onions, parsley and spices and stir together.
2. Add your chicken and toss around a bit to cover in onion-spice mix. Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes.
3. After 10 minutes, check on your chicken and add just a bit of water. The goal is to get a thick sauce, so only add enough to prevent burning. Cover and allow to cook for 3o minutes.
4. Once cooked through, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to cool. Keep the remaining sauce in the pan; you’ll be using it for the egg filling.
5. Once cooled you can separate the meat from the bones and shred into smaller pieces.
6. At this point, I’ll just add that this chicken is so delicious that I will definitely be making this spice mix again and stopping here. But if you’re set on making the bastilla, carry on.

To make the egg filling:
1. Add the eggs to the spice sauce in the pan.
2. Using medium-low heat, stir the eggs into the sauce and allow to cook for about 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally. The sauce will eventually evaporate and the eggs will become a bit dry — this is what you’re going for.
3. Once dry, turn off the heat. Reserve for later.

To make the almond filling:
1. Toast/Fry your almonds in a bit  of oil until golden brown.
2. After removing any excess oil from the almonds, add the nuts to a food processor or blender along with the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and orange blossom water until crushed. A couple of quick notes: If using a blender, you may need to do this step in a few batches. Also, go easy on the orange blossom water — it’s pretty potent, so don’t go overboard!

To assemble! 

1. Brush your baking pan with the melted butter.
2. Take a sheet of phyllo dough and fold it in half. Place this “double sheet” in the center of the pan. Now, place a second double sheet with 1/3 hanging out of the pan to the left of the center, and one similarly folded sheet with 1/3 hanging out to the right. (The video is especially helpful here). Brush with butter.
3. Now, add 4 more double sheets, each hanging off the plate even more (perhaps half is outside of the pan), one at each of the four cardinal directions. Brush with butter.
4. Now you’re ready to start adding the fillings. Spread the egg mixture onto your phyllo-lined baking dish. Cover with a layer of “doubled” phyllo (you might use two here, depending on the diameter of your dish). Brush with butter.
5. Now add the chicken filling. Cover with a layer of “doubled” phyllo as above. Brush with butter.
6. Add almond filling. Now fold all of those pieces of over-hanging phyllo back into the center. Brush with the egg yolk.
7. Add a couple more layers of phyllo to the top, tucking the pieces into the sides of the pan, to create a smoother finish, and to reinforce the bastilla. Brush with butter every couple of layers (you’ll use 3-4). Brush the final layer with butter, then egg yolk.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown.
10. Here’s the kicker: Cover with powdered sugar and cinnamon before serving. Incredible.

This entry was published on May 23, 2011 at 8:17 pm. It’s filed under dinner and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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