Sunday, April 21, 2013

Phyllo Dough Novice: The Making of Moroccan Chicken Bastilla

I have always wanted to work with phyllo. I love baklava and spanakopita. So, in spite of stories of how difficult it can be to work with, I knew I had to give it a try. I saw recipes in the Greens cookbook for Vegetarian Filo Turnovers, but I thought I would start with something I knew I liked.

I remembered enjoying a delicious phyllo pie when we go to El Morocco, a local restaurant. I thought that would be my best candidate: sweet and savory at the same time, had a good portion of protein, and topped with a generous dusting of confectioner’s sugar. The pie was a quite big for two, so I thought to make it in appetizer-size pieces.

I found a couple of great recipes. The first one was from The Kitchen Alchemist for Chicken Pastilla Parcels, and the next one from a Moroccan hotel & spa. The filling from the Morrocan Spa seemed to have a simpler approach (and I do not have a food processor to mince the chicken), but I wanted to consult the Kitchen Alchemist’s technique since I am doing snack size pieces.

My recipe is available in a different post. If it’s your first time doing this (or you have advice for me), please read on.

Making the Filling

So I followed the recipe and felt good. There was a lot of work, but the kitchen smelled really great. The onions and cinnamon cooking produced a wonderful aroma. Also adding the spices just added to the delicious scent.

Instead of 3 pigeons, I used 3 chicken thighs (I figured that would be about half). Everything was going great – until I realized I forgot to defrost the phyllo – a rookie mistake. (Actually, this was not my first time making this mistake; the first one involved a turkey. I guess that proved who the real turkey was.)

I decided to salvage what I made. I saved the chicken thighs meat, put the phyllo in the refrigerator to defrost. I also saved the egg mixture but opted not to use it because my tummy usually does not agree with day old eggs.

The next day, I made the egg mixture again. While the chicken stock mixture was simmering, I put the chicken meat in there for extra flavor. Messing up on Day 1 actually proved to be a blessing in disguise: not only did it split the work up, but it also gave me an idea for leftover roasted chicken! I ended up using only half of the chicken meat and the rest went to (of all things) my hubby’s turkey chili.

When the mixture was close to a boil, I fished the chicken meat out (or chicken it out) and made the egg mixture.

Stuffing the Phyllo

Making the phyllo rolls was trickier than I thought. The dough is so thin, delicate, and easy to tear. I should have stuck to making the pie because THAT would be a lot easier, but I have gone so far so I might as well continue (plus I have a standard pie pan and now not enough filling).

Fine phyllo. It's like working with lace. These are the scraps.

I started (more like struggled) with one sheet and buttered it. Then I put the one tablespoon of the filling and one tablespoon of the egg mixture. I cut the sheet and proceeded to roll. The first one was quite challenging, but it became easier as I proceeded. Also, I found that using two sheets may be better, especially for newbies.

rolling phyllo
Rolling phyllo - Note the first one is uneven
In retrospect, I should have cut first, then roll. This option would be great since I did not have enough counter space. My original vision was to make them like eggrolls, in honor of my Asian heritage. However, it may have been easier if I made them into parcels like what The Kitchen Alchemist described.

Ready for baking.

I baked them for about 20 minutes, turning about halfway. I let it cook for a bit and then dusted it with cinnamon sugar. Yummy!


The result was very delicious and brought me back to dinners at El Morocco. I also liked the appetizer size because it makes it an easy snack or appetizer.  Most importantly, my husband gave it a “thumbs up.”

Completed Bastillas. Yummy!

Making snack-sized bastillas was labor-intensive, so set aside about 2 hours (more if you are starting from a raw chicken). As mentioned, making the pie may be 50% easier, bit you don’t have much flexibility of baking only what you need.

I do wish that the filling was just a tad sweeter. I saw a recipe for bastilla using orange zest in the filling. For next time, I may use that for more sweetness.

Lastly, I wish I had seen this wikihow post on working with Phyllo Dough. This may have saved me some time. Also, remember to defrost the phyllo (Check the package for defrost instructions) It made a world of difference.

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