Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chicken bastila

Photo by Steve Shanahan
First published Canberra Times 17 October 2012. 
The food truck phenomenon is part of everyday life in cities across the world. Many trucks are tarted up with industrial chic to titillate the increasingly sophisticated palates of the curbside customer, and late night revellers in cities such as LA, New York and London regularly feast on Mexican cuisine, Indian, gourmet burgers, and a range of cured meats.

 While these styles have been monopolising the meals on wheels menus, punters in need of a carb and fat hit are also being offered new and different foods. One that’s growing in popularity in LA is the Moroccan inspired bastila. The bastila, is a Moorish meeting of sweet and savoury, with infused and roasted spiced meats enveloped in a buttery flaky case. 

Australia is no stranger to the late night van, with Harry’s Café de Wheels being Sydney’s iconic late night purveyor of Pies ‘n Peas, originally targeted to dock workers in Woolloomooloo in the 1930s. This late night sailor’s haunt had been Harry’s Café since the depression years, but after world war two, in order to meet council requirements to move at least twelve inches a day, it was reborn as Harry’s Café de Wheels.  Similar to Harry’s iconic pie ‘n peas, the bastila is the perfect street food, easily eaten in your hands.

These new styles of street eating are finally gaining traction in Australian cities, having been hamstrung in the past by restrictive local government regulation.  However, the City of Sydney is swinging behind this trend, with a twelve month trial that will eventually see ten food trucks prowling its carb craving night scene. Currently, you can dine on Mexican from the Cantina Mobil, and from the more eclectic offerings of former Tetsuya sou chef, Stuart McGill, at the Eat Art Truck. The trucks to come will have a range of cuisines, including organic fare, Japanese, Yum Cha and pasta. You can read more about this at

The bastila originates from Morocco, and traditionally contains a wide variety of fillings. Game meats, eggs and almonds are layered and wrapped in filo pastry.  This ancient dish is believed to date back to the 1400s when the Moors were driven out of Spain. Still popular in Morocco and France, the bastila is served to celebrate special occasion feasts filled with squab, pigeon or fish.
My stocks of squab and pigeon are running pretty low, so I make do using organic chicken thigh fillets. 

As with pies that contain filo pastry, this dish takes some fiddling to assemble and the chicken needs to marinate for at least an hour.  A couple of things to remember are, to allow the flavours to develop in the chicken, the thighs needs to marinate for at least one hour. Also, while you are working, you should cover your unused sheets of filo with a cloth to prevent them from drying out.

12 chicken thigh fillets, skinned
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
3 eggs
2 tbsp hone
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
3 cups of chicken stock
3 tbsp lemon juice
salt and white pepper
1 tbsp coriander, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
¼ cup ground almonds
1 cup almond flakes, roasted
8 sheets of filo pastry
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tbsp mixture of ground cinnamon and caster sugar for dusting 

Place the chicken thigh fillets, garlic, onions and spices into a large casserole pot and give them a mix around with your hands. Cover and let marinate for one hour or longer.
Add the chicken stock and one teaspoon of salt to the pot and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for one hour. The chicken should be very tender and falling apart.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a large bowl. Strain the broth, saving the liquid and the onions separately. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred the chicken using two forks to pull it apart.

Pour the broth back into the pot. Whisk in the lemon juice and bring to the boil. Reduce the liquid till you have about one to two cups of liquid remaining in the pot. Reduce the heat to low.
Beat the eggs with the honey, and pour into the broth in the pot, in a slow steady drizzle, whisking all the time. The sauce will eventually thicken, and it may take a few minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Mix the shredded chicken and reserved onions into the sauce, together with the parsley and coriander. 

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Place the filo sheets between sheets of baking paper and cover with a clean tea towel.  Grease a 23 centimetre round cake tin with sides about three centimetres high. Brush one sheet of filo with butter and centre it in the tin, so that the excess hangs over the sides. Brush another sheet and press it gently into the tin without ripping it, so that it sits at right angles to the first sheet and forms a cross. Place a third and then a fourth repeating the process. The overhang from the four sheets should cover the edge of the tin. 

Sprinkle half of the almond flakes into the base over the filo pastry. Spoon in the chicken, spreading it evenly across the tin and top with the remaining flaked almonds. Fold the overhanging filo pastry over the chicken.

Butter the remaining four sheets of filo pastry, stacking them one on top of the other on the kitchen bench. Using a saucepan lid as a guide, one that is about 26 centimetres wide, or cut around the cake tin, leaving an extra two centimetres around the edges, so you have a disk of filo bigger than your tin. Place the circle over the cake tin and gently tuck the edges of the dough into the sides of the tin, working your way around until you have tucked in all the filo pastry. Brush the top of the bastila with melted butter and dust with cinnamon and sugar. 

Place the bastila tin on a tray and bake for 20 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 180C and bake for a further 20 minutes. If the top starts to get too brown, cover it loosely with foil. When cooked, transfer the bastila to a wire rack to rest for about five minutes.

Lay a piece of baking paper over a small cutting board and have a serving platter ready. Turn the bastila out onto the paper-lined board and invert it onto the platter so it’s right side up. Serve the bastila still warm or at room temperature.