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.