Chicken Pastilla – Cooking with Locals in Fes, Morocco
The Food Market in Fes
We’re out of breath, but fortunately it has been a mostly downhill walk. Jelle switches on the GPS on his phone and clutches it, intently. We’re both certified directionless We are about to enter the narrow entrance to the market in Fes, Northern Morocco for our cooking class at the Clock Cafe. We’re 5 minutes late and we dive in head first into the cobbled narrow main street with vendors selling breads, vegetables, figs and live chickens. Donkeys laden with pails of milk and baskets of goods are led slowly through; we step out of the way.
Luckily, the cafe is only a few navigable turns away and down a narrow alley. We’re welcomed and taken with a few fellow travellers upstairs where we will will cooking for the morning.
Clock Cafe is possibly the coolest spot to hang out in Fes – packs of American students come here to hang out in between their Arabic lessons, yoga classes, pottery and henna tattoo sessions. All this makes this multi-level cafe very popular with the young and well-heeled.
But before our class can commence we need ingredients and we go back out into the market. Walking amongst locals buying and haggling for produce for their day’s meal imbues us foreigners with a feeling of authenticity. Or we’d like to believe it does.
The chicken we’ll use during the class is slaughtered in front of us. Naturally, we want to linger and take pictures of everything. The locals are patient and our chef and guide maneuver us out of the way. We sample a market breakfast of large flat breads with a spicy relish, olives and dates.
For the next few hours we are occupied in the kitchen sharing the task of chopping, braising, mixing, kneading and stirring. We take our pastries and dessert cookies to a communal bakery (there is one located on almost every street) and wait while they brown in the wood fire ovens, the temperatures searing-hot.
The bakery charges the equivalent of R10 a tray and the man tending the fire knows which bread belongs to which family just by the shape of it. There are very few families who mark their breads or trays. We saw this in all of the communal bakeries we popped into. It’s truly amazing.
Starving, the anticipation gnawing at us, we are served the bountiful meal we prepared, on the roof top garden. We end with mint tea, as one must in Morocco.
Pasilla (B’stilla) is unique in that it is both savoury and enhanced with sweet, in the form of icing sugar, honey and orange blossom water. Despite initial reservation, it is a spectacularly scrumptious combination and I do hope you try it. Pigeon pastilla is the dish to look out for in Northern Morocco, but pigeon isn’t always easily available.
4 chicken breasts
4 strands saffron
3 slices ginger, 1/2 cm thickness
4 T parsley and coriander finely chopped
40 g butter
1 red onion, super finely diced
1/2 cinnamon quail
salt, to taste
4 extra large eggs whisked
2 T orange blossom water, plus extra for serving (optional but recommended)
30 g flaked almonds
honey to taste
10-12 sheets Mediterranean Delicacies phyllo pastry
melted butter for brushing
1. Bring 2 cups of water to boil, add chicken breasts, saffron, ginger, parsley, coriander, butter, onion and cinnamon. Lower heat and allow to simmer for an hour or more, until the meat is tender and starts to shred when pulled with a fork. Top up with water if needed.
2. When all the water is absorbed, add almonds and turn to lowest heat setting.
3. Add 3/4 of the whisked eggs slowly, beat with fork.
4. Season with salt and honey to taste and allow to cool.
5. Butter 5–6 phyllo pastry sheets with a pastry brush and stack neatly one on top of the other. Use a sharp knife to slice the pastry sheets in half widthwise.
6.Add 1/4 of the shredded chicken to the halved pastry and form into a round using your hands. Lift one corner up, brush with egg wash and press over the chicken mixture and continue until you have a roughly round pastry pie. Tuck the loose ends under one side and place the smooth, seamless side up. Brush this side with egg wash.
Tip: cut of a litte extra pastry for a smoother, less bulky result but make sure you seal the pie well.
7. Repeat with remaining phyllo and place the pies on a greased baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes at 150 degrees Celsius
8. When ready, dust with icing sugar. Serve with orange blossom water on the side.
This is lovely served warm.
This post forms part of the series of recipes I am preparing for Mediterranean Delicacies. It is a Food and the Fabulous Endorsed project and I will be remunerated for it.