Moroccan chicken pastilla


Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 2 hours

Serves: 2 pastilla 18cm (each one serve 4 ) or 1 pastilla 23cm (serve 6).

Pastilla is for sure one of the most popular dish of Moroccan cuisine. It’s a beloved classic, reserved for special occasions like weddings, births, or eids. 

In Morocco the pastilla is generally served as a starter at the beginning of special meals. And of course, you can serve it as a main dish with a simple green salad.

There are two main versions of pastilla, one with poultry and one with seafood. 

Where does the pastilla / bastilla come from ?

Pastilla which is pronounced “bastilla” in Morocco, because the letter « p » doesn’t exist in Arabic alphabet.

According to Anny Gaul (American historian of food specialist in the Arabic-speaking world): “If you look at the written records and the recipes that we have from Al-Andalus, you find that there were dishes  very similar to Bastilla.  There are a few things that suggest this dish is of Andalusian origin, in particular the combination of ingredients and spices.

However, the Andalusian roots are not enough to explain everything about the history of the dish.The way that the pigeon, eggs, herbs and spices are cooked today is the same as the way made in Al-Andalus, according to the recipes we have.  

Nevertheless, the way it’s wrapped in “werqa” ( sheet of Brick a kind of spring roll dough) was most likely added later, as we have no evidence that this type of very thin dough was used in Al-Andalus ”.

 What according to Anny Gaul can be explained by the influence of the Ottoman Empire. ” The Werqa” (brick sheet) used to wrap the Pastilla, “is very similar to that used for Baklava and in a few other Turkish sweets”  .

The recipe of the day :

Today I’m sharing with you my family’s recipe.

The traditional poultry pastilla is a sweet and savory dish. Usually made with pigeon, but can also be made with chicken. 

The filling contains chicken perfectly cooked with onions and spices : saffron, cinnamon and cardamom. Once the chicken is cooked, and cool enough to handle it, use your hands to pick all the meat off the bones.

Add the sugar or honey to the onion sauce and continue cooking, until the onions are caramelised and have the consistency of a jam. Now return the chicken pieces to the sauce, stir and set aside. At this stage, you can keep the chicken in the fridge and bring it back to room temperature before continuing the next day.

Then you make the crunchy, sweet almond layer delicately perfumed with cinnamon, mastic gum and orange blossom water. And as a final layer the scrambled eggs. 

In the authentic recipe we add the beaten eggs to the onions sauce. I always found it little bit dry, that’s why I add the shredded chicken to the sauce and not the eggs.

All of this filling is covered with the famous « warqa » which means sheet of paper in Arabic. This dough is only available in Morocco, you can make it at home if you want, or substitute it with filo pastry sheets, or a spring roll dough.

Don’t let all of this intimidate you, the recipe certainly requires time but it’s really easy to make with some organisation. That’s why I advice you to start preparing the filling the day before.

And also the pastilla can be assembled and frozen before or after baking.

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Moroccan chicken pastilla

  • Prep time: 1 hour
  • Cook time: 2 hours
  • Total time: 3 hours
  • Serves: 2 pastilla 18cm (each one serve 4 ) or 1 pastilla 23cm (serve 6).


Chicken marinade :

  • 1 whole chicken without skin about 1kg
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/4 tsp saffron
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • salt
  • 3 Tbsp water

Onion sauce :

  • 5 onions, finely sliced or chopped about 800g
  • 3 Tbsp parsley , finely chopped use just the leaves.
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/4 tsp saffron
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • salt
  • 2 Tbsp caster sugar, Or honey

Almond layer :

  • 400 g blanched almonds
  • 250 g sunflower oil
  • 150 g icing sugar
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 Tbsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1/8 tsp mastic gum + 1/2 tsp caster sugar

Scrambled eggs :

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • salt & black pepper

Assembly :

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 30 g unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp sliced almonds
  • 7 spring rolls dough , or filo or brick dough
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • pinch of cinnamon powder

Method :

Chicken filling :

  • 1)

    First marinate the chicken, in a large bowl mix all the ingredients together. Rub the chicken with this marinade to coat all the chicken pieces with spices. Set aside in the fridge overnight or at least 2 hours to let the chicken absorb all the flavours.

    Now let’s cook the chicken. In a large sautée pan, heat the sunflower add the onions, the marinated chicken, parsley, butter and spices : cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, turmeric, ginger, saffron, season with salt and pepper.

    Cover and cook on a low heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring time to time, it’s very important to stir constantly, as you can see we don’t add water to cook the chicken, because we use a big quantity of onion, and the vegetable water is enough.

    Check the chicken, it should be very tender after 1 hour of cooking. Remove it from the sauce and place it in a plate. Let it cool.

  • 2)

    Keep the pan on the heat, uncover and continue cooking on a medium heat for about 10 – 15 minutes until there is almost no liquid remaining.

    Now add the sugar or honey if you prefer, and lower the heat. At this stage you have to watch the sauce because it will go fast.
    Stir constantly, until the onions are dark, caramelised like a jam. Keep a close eye towards the end to make sure it doesn’t catch on the battom of the pan or the sauce burns.

    Remove from the heat, discard the cinnamon sticks and the cardamom pods, and set aside to cool.

  • 3)

    Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, use your hands to pick all the meat off the bones, and shred it into a bite pieces.

    Return the meat to the sauce, stir gently and set aside.

    Like I said above, at this stage you can keep the chicken in the fridge and bring it back to room temperature before continuing the next day.

Almond filing :

  • 1)

    Fry the almonds, once are cool, mix them to the icing sugar, then divide the quantity in half. In a food processor, mix the first half very well until you obtain an almond dough, the second one you’ll mix it into a crunchy mixture.

    If you don’t want to fry the almonds you can always bake them in the oven for a lighter version.
    Just preheat the oven to 160C fan, spread the blanched almonds on a baking pan, roast for 20 – 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden brown

    Mix the almonds with the remaining ingredients. Set aside.

    Use a mortar and pestle to reduce the mastic gum with a little bit of sugar in powder.


Scrambled eggs :

  • 1)

    In a bowl, beat the eggs with a fork until mixed well.
    In a pan heat the butter, add the eggs and gently stir, season with salt and black pepper. Keep stirring until the eggs are completely cooked. We’re not looking for a creamy scrambled eggs, we want the eggs to be little bit dry.

Assembly :

  • 1)

    preheat the oven to 170C fan.
    Brush the base and sides of a deep pie tin – I used 18 cm wide and 4cm deep to make two pastilla, feel free to use a large one 23cm – with melted butter. Line the dish with the spring roll dough ( warqa or filo pastry) I cut it to have the same size and same shape, brush the first sheet with melted butter and brush the edges with the beaten egg to stick the sheets.

    Continue with the next one, generously overlapping as you go, it’s important to work quickly to prevent the dough from getting dry, use the beaten egg as a glue to stick the sheets together as you can see in the pictures.

  • 2)

    Spoon half of the almond mixture to cover the base, press very well as you will do for a cheesecake base.

    Spread the chicken filling on top.

    then continue with the scrambled eggs.

    And final layer the remaining half of almond mixture.

  • 3)

    Fold the overhanging dough onto the top of the pastilla, tucking any other edges into the sides, give a generous brush with melted butter, use the beaten egg to stick the last sheet on the top to cover and have a nice shape.

  • 4)

    Flip the pastilla onto a baking sheet, give it a final brush of the melted butter, use a thin stick to make small holes, that will help the pastilla to not explode during the baking and keep its shape.
    Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, scatter the sliced almonds on top, then place the pastilla under the grill and continue baking for 5 minutes or less, just to give a nice golden brown colour to the almonds. Be careful not to burn them.

  • 5)

    Remove from the oven, let it cool little bit for about 10 minutes before inverting the pastilla on to a platter. Serve with drizzled honey, some cinnamon powder and petals rose. As you can serve it dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon if desired.  

    Enjoy !!



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