Chicken Pastilla

January 9, 2020
Family Verdict:


3 1/4 pounds chicken, divided into 6 pieces (or 2 breasts, skin on, and 2 legs and 2 thighs, skin on and on the bone)

2 tablespoon sunflower oil

2 medium onions, thinly sliced (8 ounces)

12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

4 large plum tomatoes, cut lengthwise into 8 long wedges (12 ounces)

4 long cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon pink peppercorns

2 whole dried chipotle chiles, or 1 urfa and 2 dried red chiles, seeds removed

1/2 cup brandy

2 cups white wine

2 cups chicken stock

2 ounces dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids), coarsely broken

7 tablespoons ghee, melted

8 ounces filo pastry (18 to 20 sheets)

2 tablespoons icing sugar, coarse sea salt and black pepper

Catalan spinach

1/2 cup Valdespino sherry vinegar or another good-quality vinegar ( i used xaoxing rice wine, as i had it)

1/2 cup brandy

2 ounces currants

5 ounces pine nuts, toasted

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

3 small shallots, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

3/4 cup double cream

2 ounces baby spinach leaves

1. Season the chicken pieces with 2 teaspoons of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Heat the sunflower oil in a large sauté pan and place over high heat. Add half the chicken pieces and sear for 7 to 8 minutes, turning once halfway through, until deep golden brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool while you continue with the remaining batch.

2. Keep the pan on the heat and add the onions and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat for 15 to 18 minutes, until the onions are soft, dark, and caramelized like jam. Keep a close eye on it toward the end and stir constantly, to make sure it does not catch on the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, cinnamon, peppercorns, and dried chiles, along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Continue to cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, then slowly pour over the brandy. Cook for a further 2 minutes, then return the chicken pieces to the pan. Pour over the wine and stock, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Remove the chicken pieces, increase the heat, and let the sauce bubble away for 30 to 35 minutes, until it has reduced by a quarter and has the consistency of caramel(you don't want thin liquid left in the chicken or the spinach as it will make the pastry soggy when cooked). Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and chiles, add the chocolate and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool: you should have about 2 cups/500 ml in the pan.

3. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, use your hands to pick all the meat off the bones. Return the meat to the sauce, stir gently and set aside. I did this the day before I wanted to eat

4. To make the Catalan spinach, pour the sherry vinegar and brandy into a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Warm through for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat. Stir through the currants and set aside to cool. Mix the pine nuts with 1 teaspoon of oil and the paprika and set aside. Pour the remaining oil into a very large sauté pan, place over medium-low heat and add the shallots. Cook for about 8 minutes, until soft and lightly colored. Add the garlic, along with 1 teaspoon of salt, and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the currant and brandy mix along with the pine nuts, and cook for 2 more minutes. Pour in the cream, increase the heat and cook for 3 minutes, to reduce the sauce by a quarter. Stir in the spinach and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, uncovered, for the leaves to wilt and for the liquid to evaporate so that there is about 2 tablespoons left in the pan.

5. Preheat the oven to 200C (180C Fan).

6. Brush the bottom and sides of a large deep ovenproof sauté pan—around 10 inches wide and 3 inches deep—with about a tablespoon of the melted ghee. Brush the first sheet of filo pastry and line the base of the pan. Continue with the next sheet, generously overlapping as you go, and leaving about a 3-inch overhang over the edge of the pan with each sheet. Work quite quickly here, so that the pastry does not dry out, brushing each sheet liberally with the melted ghee. Continue until you have used two-thirds of the pastry sheets, then spoon the spinach mixture into the pan. Spread the chicken on top, then continue with the remaining pastry sheets, tucking these ones into the pan, as though making a bed with fitted sheets. Continue until all the filo has been used before drawing in the overhanging pastry sheets and sealing them on top of the pie with a final brush of the melted ghee.

7. Place in the oven and cook for 1 hour, uncovered. Cover with foil and cook for a final 10 minutes, so that the bottom gets golden brown without the top burning. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before inverting the pastilla onto a platter. Sprinkle over the icing sugar through a fine-mesh sieve, and serve warm as is. You can also make a mesh pattern on top of the pastilla by heating up a metal skewer with a blow-torch until red hot. Create parallel lines by burning the sugar in straight lines, spaced 3/4 inch apart and then repeating at a 90° angle.


OK, not one for the faint-hearted this. Its the run up to Christmas and its my turn to host a family meal for the Former Neighbours from The Big House and the Neighbours across the Street. 15 people all up. As a side bar, 3 of them were proclaimed veggies, but I chose to ignore that for the most part. I actually made them a red onion Tarte Tatin, after my original suggestion of a beetroot and red-onion one was vetoed by the Eldest, on the grounds she doesn't like Beetroot. Such is my lot.

Anyway, the main event. I had always fancied making a pastilla having seen it featured on various programmes about North African (specifically Moroccan) cooking. It seemed to fit the bill in being designed as a rich, sumptuous meal around which to base a feast for special guests at festive times. Exactly what I wanted. So heads down and here we go. I fancied the recipe from Nopi as it is by 2 people I admire greatly in terms of flavour - Ottolenghi and Scully - although it comes with the caveat that it is an all day process to make it. I actually split this across 2 days. I made the fillings the day before the meal and then finished the pie on the day we were to eat. This made it very manageable and no stress at all.

Mastering the layering technique for the filo is not that complicated either - just makes sure there is plenty of overlap and enough overhang to fold over once it is filled. While the recipe calls for ghee to lubricate the sheets, I just used melted butter. Similarly I could not find chipotle chillis, so I substituted some hot smoked paprika instead..

The result was a great festive centrepiece. It was rich and luxurious, with layers of flavour that made it feel and taste very special. I would definitely recommend trying it at least once. I served it with a fennel and watercress salad which cut through the richness and made a very enjoyable meal.

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