Pastilla no! We will not let you go

04Apr08

pastillaLast Monday I was lucky to be treated to my first taste of an Algerian pastilla, made by some fellow foodies (thanks again, guys! it was great!). A pastilla is a pie of filo (phyllo) dough, filled with chicken, eggs and almonds and with very subtle flavorings, with traces of coriander, cinnamon and other spices. I was intrigued and couldn’t get the flavor out of my head.

The next day, I hunted for some ingredients and started searching the web. There were many recipes saying one should start a pastilla preferably the day before, and that is not my favorite time to start a recipe. I want to cook NOW, I don’t want to read I should have started cooking chickens or soaking beans 14 hours before, or things like that! So I put together a pastilla with the recipe of Algerian chef Zaid, who had an easy looking pan-fried pastilla recipe.

You will need: 4 chicken legs (or 2 chicken thighs and 2 drumsticks); 5 eggs; 200 grams of almond flakes (although I only put in half the amount because I didn’t want to go to the store AGAIN); 1 onion, 1/2 lemon; 1 clove of garlic, butter, filo pastry (some large sheets are best); rosewater (go to the Moroccan-Turkish store for this) some sprigs of fresh coriander (cilantro); turmeric, saffron, sugar, salt.

Start by putting the chicken in 2 cups of water in a saucepan with the coriander, chopped onion, chopped garlic, a pinch of saffron, half a tablespoon of turmeric and one teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil and cook on low heat for 1 hour. It will smell delicious! Then take the meat off the bone and reduce the liquid to about 1 cup.

Roast the almond flakes in a dry saucepan and roast until nut brown. Cool, then mix with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of rosewater. Set aside.

Put about 100 grams butter in a small saucepan and heat until it has melted. Put aside. Thaw your filo pastry, take care not to dry it out. Cover with a damp cloth if necessary.

Whisk 5 eggs in a bowl and add half a lemon. Then add the mixture to the reduced chicken liquid. Turn the heat up and keep stirring. The eggs will curdle and set; then turn off the heat. Put over a sieve to get rid of the superfluous juices (to prevent the pastilla of becoming soggy later on).

Now take a smallish size flat frying pan and brush with butter. Take your filo pastry and put 2 round sheets in the center of the pan, brush with butter. Put 4 square sheets of filo pastry on top, so they can make up the sides (and top) of the pastilla. They will hang over the edge of your pan.

Start to assemble the pastilla: put a layer of almonds as the first layer. Then a layer of eggs, then a layer of chicken. Repeat with almonds, eggs and chicken, then repeat again. Fold over the filo sheets over the top, cover tightly, and brush generously with butter. Then turn on the heat and fry gently.

My filo pastry could hardly be called sheets and flaked terribly, because it had been sitting in the freezer far too long. The beautiful layers of filo pastry as described didn’t happen at all. But still, even tough it looked like it might disintegrate, the pastilla didn’t turn out bad at all. After frying gently I flipped it over, using a plate (see picture), and baked it on the other side until crispy and delicious. Will definitely be making this again, but then with fresh filo sheets!

For more pastilla assembly pictures, look here.

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