Do you guys remember that scene in Ratatouille when Ego was transported back to his childhood as soon as he tasted Remy’s ratatouille? The emotions evoked from the memory associated with the dish was so powerful and profound that Ego found himself mopping up every morsel of the dish he was ready to loathe. B’stilla is the ratatouille to my Ego. It is a dish that never fails to make me smile, it takes me back to that rainy afternoon in Casablanca, Morocco when I was wet, sick, alone, afraid, and very lonely; and a kindly maitre’d of a fancy restaurant took pity on me and nourished me back to health, despite looking like something a cat dragged in.
I wish B’stilla was an easier and less fussy dish to make, but it’s not, and probably never will be. But with a little time, and a lot of patience, the results are always worth it. There are no fixed recipes for b’stilla as the spice mixture varies from cook to cook, but it is almost always made with pigeon. Yes, flying rats pigeon, those pigeons! Though to be fair, the pigeon in the first b’stilla I tried was not your garden variety winged rats. The pigeons they use for cooking in Morocco and other counties in the Mahgreb and Levant region are always farmed and raised for food. I will spare you from having to look for pigeon in the freezer aisle of your friendly neighborhood grocery, and we will instead use chicken for this recipe. If you are more adventurous and have access to it, squab or quail would work well for this too.
Please note that you will need a spring-form pan for this recipe, as b’stilla is often cut up like a cake and served in slices. You could bake it in a round baking dish and serve it like lasagna, loosening the sides and lifting it from the bottom of the pan, but doing it that way risks damaging the phyllo and making the fillings spill out. Also, while Ras el Hanout sounds like something very exotic and strange, it is simply a blend of spices Moroccans often use in cooking, and you should already have a good number of the individual spices in your cupboard. However, if you want make things easier for yourself, both Trader Joe’s and World Market sell decent Ras El Hanout mixes.
• 1⁄2 cup blanched almonds
• 3 lb chicken thighs, bone in and skin-on
• 4 cups chicken stock
• 3 eggs, beaten
• 3 tbsp. olive oil
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 medium yellow onion, minced
• 1 tbsp. ras el hanout (see recipe below)*
• 1⁄2 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
• 1⁄4 tsp. saffron threads, mixed with 1 tsp. water (substitute with 1/2 tsp turmeric if saffron is unavailable)
• 3 tbsp. minced cilantro
• 3 tbsp. minced parsley
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, plus more
• 8 sheets phyllo dough (preferably # 4 ultra-thin)
• 1⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
* Ras El Hanout
• 1/2 teaspoon aniseed
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 8 whole allspice berries
• seeds from 8 cardamom pods
• 8 whole cloves
• 15 whole black peppercorns
• 1 stick cinnamon, broken in half
• 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
• 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon cuminseed
• a pinch dried red pepper flakes
• 1 tablespoon ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Using a spice grinder or food processor, grind all the spices together until fine. Store ras el hanout in an airtight container, this will keep for at least 6 months.
1. Toast almonds in a large pot (4 quarts) and toast over mediumt o high heat for 4 to 5 minutes; let cool. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until finely ground; set aside.
2. Add chicken, bay leaves, whole peppers, and stock to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer covered until the chicken is cooked through, about 40 to 45 minutes.
3. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let it cool. Once cool, shred the meat and discard the skin and bones. Simmer the cooking liquid over medium heat until it has reduced to 1 cup, about 30 minutes. Let cool and slowly whisk in the eggs. Transfer sauce to another bowl and set aside for now.
4. Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel and add oil. Heat over medium-high, then add the garlic and onion cooking them until golden. Add the ras el hanout, chile flakes, and saffron mixture; cook for 1 to 2 minutes, and remove from heat. Stir in almonds, shredded meat, the egg/stock sauce, cilantro, parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside and let cool.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 9″ spring form pan with butter. Lay 1 sheet phyllo on a work surface and brush with melted butter. Fit into pan, allowing corners to hang over the edges. Repeat with another sheet phyllo. Spread 1⁄3 of the filling over the dough. Repeat the process of layering a couple more times.
6. Fold corners of phyllo over filling. Top with remaining 2 sheets buttered phyllo; tuck corners around sides of pan, encasing the filling. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden and filling is set.
7. Let cool slightly and release from springform pan.
** If using a regular baking pan,let cool slightly, then unmold gently loosening the sides with a butter knife. Place a plate over the baking pan, making sue the plate is bigger, and flip the baking pan on it. Tap on the pan to make sure the entire b’stilla comes down. Take your serving plate and place it on what is now the top part of the b’stilla and flip again. The crunchy baked phyllo side should be on the top at this point.
8. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon and serve.