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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chicken B'Steeya (French Fridays with Dorie)

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.


  1. Marie! I just finish my post as well, and like you I was doubting the combinations as well... but at the end we loved it too. You may want to read my post as well, since I have a link to the way this is traditionally made and you will be surprise that it does not contain honey at all... and that the top is made with powdered sugar and not regular sugar... ahhh the adaptations at its best right?

  2. It looks great, Marie. And I'm glad you liked it. Although it looks different than mine. I also don't use a pan, I just do it free-form (that's what my mom always does so it didn't occur to me to use a cake pan). The saffron adds a distinct flavor to the dish which I like. Also, I like to use a combination of dark and white meat (I actually cook a whole chicken and then take the meat off the bone). Will have to make it for you when you come over, so you can compare. Sounds good? :o)

  3. Monica,
    Yours looks wonderful. I hope to travel through Morocco trying different b'steeyas, and then attempting to recreate my favorite. I don't usually have saffrron on hand--this was a gift--but I was glad I could include it.

    It wouldn't have occurred to me to make it free-form either. I'm sure the cake pan makes it easier to shape, but the free form is probably prettier. (My cake pan has been through a lot).

  4. It's great to know that this can be reheated successfully! I really enjoyed it, and I'm glad you did too.

  5. If/when you make it to Morocco, you should absolutely go sleep in a tent in the Sahara one night. Waking up to watch the sun rise over the sandy dunes is by far my favorite memory of a trip I made there about 10 years ago. I don't remember having b'stilla when we were there, but wonderful tagines, lots of mint tea, and a fantastic feast in the desert under the stars.

  6. Envious of your upcoming trip to Morocco. I'm sure you'll have a great time, especially the food!

  7. Great photos! Yours turned out so nice and browned. How fun that you will be going to Morocco!

  8. Your comment about the nuisance pigeons totally cracked me up! Going to Morocco sounds like fun. Yeah for you.

  9. Audrey,
    I have one lone piece left, and may even try the microwave for that one, although I doubt that phyllo and the microwave are a marriage made in heaven.

    So glad to hear you advise that! The idea of the tent in the desert was making me nervous, so it's great to hear your rave review.

    Dessert by Candy,
    The food sounds amazing, and so does the architecture.

    The down payment check goes in the envelope tomorrow. Or at least that's the plan tonight.

    I have some neighbors who would like nothing better than if I trapped and ate pigeons. (They wouldn't even care about the eating part).