I'm planning (or, probably more accurately, hoping to plan) a trip to Morocco this fall, so cooking anything Moroccan is very exciting to me. Still, as I read the recipe for Chicken B'Steeya, I had my doubts. I wasn't sure how the egg and honey thickener would work; it seemed like there was a lot of chicken and very little else in the dish, and I was very unsure about the cinnamon-sugar treatment on top of the last layer of phyllo. Also, I remembered how frustrating it was to work with phyllo. Then I gave myself a little pep talk: "Marie, if you're willing to sleep in a tent in the Sahara (not sure I am, actually), you shouldn't let a little cinnamon and sugar stop you from making a new dish). So I forged ahead.
No matter how dubious I was about the cinnamon/sugar/honey combination, I was very happy that this b'steeya (or pastilla, or bisteeya, or bsteeya, or any of the other ways this word is transliterated), was not made with the traditional pigeon. I've never seen pigeon at any grocery store or meat market (granted, I haven't looked), and I'm not prepared to shoot my own, even though we do have nuisance pigeons in the neighborhood. So chicken was just fine with me. (If I get to Morocco, I may adopt the "don't ask, don't tell" food sampling rule).
The most exotic ingredient in this version of b'steeya is saffron.
The sauce is lemony chicken broth, reduced to just about a cup, and then thickened with egg yolks. Those eggs will scramble if I just put them in the pot, I said to myself, so cleverly, or so I thought, I gradually whisked the hot sauce into the eggs.
Well, that was a waste of time. The eggs scrambled anyway. I decided maybe that was the way it was supposed to be. Fortunately, no one was around to tell me anything different.
And, actually, when the chicken and parsley were mixed in with the eggy sauce, it no longer looked weird and curdled.
The phyllo was tricky, but it didn't matter because it was invisible on the bottom and tucked in on top. It looked good enough. I liked the addition of almonds.
With a few more tucked-in phyllo layers on top, lots of brushed-on butter, and the aforementioned sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar, the whole creation goes into the oven.
Oooh-pretty! I love how it's turned all brown and crispy. I needn't have worried about the cinnamon and sugar combination with the savory chicken. It didn't taste weird at all, and it made for caramelized bits of phyllo dough that made me want more.
A plus to this dish: it's also very good reheated the next day. I reheated it in a 300 degree oven, covered for about 15 minutes and uncovered for about 10. The top phyllo layers remained crisp, and the chicken tasted almost like a souffle. Moroccan comfort food that comforted this Minnesotan.