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B’stilla, Moroccan “Pigeon Pie”

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I got over my fear of Phyllo
and made this sensational pie.
         I’ve been staring at a recipe for this pie for months now.  As appetizing as it looked, the main barrier to getting it made was a terror of working with Phyllo dough.  As is well known, I am not the baker in our house and I leave pastry making completely in Andrew’s brilliant hands.  Here, there was no pastry-making involved just the purchase of ready-made Phyllo from the supermarket freezer.  When I finally got up the nerve to make my B’stilla, it turned out all the trepidation was unnecessary.  I passed my Phyllo test with flying colors.  And you can too.  And once you do, you’ll be able to taste this aromatic combination of sweet and salty flavors under a crisp cover of pastry topped with powdered sugar.  And fear not, no pigeon is necessary to make an authentic B’Stilla.

You say ‘Pigeon”, I say “Squab”.
         The actual spelling is Pastilla but it has many variations all pronounced ‘bastiyya’.  This meat pie is elaborate in its ingredients but not at all difficult to make.  The traditional recipe called for the meat filling to be made of squab, fledgling pigeons.  You may be horrified to know that the ancestors of those urban dwellers and crumb scavengers you see all over the city were brought to this country to feed the European population.  Yes, the Rock Pigeon you see on the street was, and still is, the identical species to the one that makes it way to the table as ‘squab’.  Today, however, B’stilla is more commonly made with chicken and not for any aesthetic reason. It is simply because shredded chicken is so much easier to come by.  B’stilla can also be filled with fish or offal as a filling.  But today’s recipe uses ordinary boneless chicken thighs. 
An Authentic B’stilla 
         This is one of those recipes where making the filling a day in advance of baking the pie brings out its full flavor in the finished pie.  First the chicken is browned in oil.  Then it is slow cooked in broth and spices and shredded.  After a layover in the fridge, the meat filling is and topped with a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon and sugar.  The traditional recipe uses a dough called ‘warka’ which is said to be thinner than Phyllo.  How this is remotely possible, I have no clue.  But Phyllo seems to be an excellent substitute.  B’stilla is most often served as starter at special meals.  I think it makes an excellent center of the plate item for supper or, like quiche, at lunch time.  As you can see, a traditional B’stilla was a free-standing pie. Ours uses our Emile Henri baking dish to great effect.  Here’s the recipe:

4 thoughts on “B’stilla, Moroccan “Pigeon Pie””

  • I got this from an old friend who is having trouble posting on our comments page. It's something to do with an RSS feed but if I understood what that meant, I would be able to fix it. But here's what my friend Susan had to say about this post: "I wanted to say "thank you" for this recipe. My daughter and future son-in-law took us to a Moroccan restaurant in Paris in June where I sampled pigeon pie. It was the best thing I had to eat in all of Paris! Can't wait to make this. Merci!

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