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Friday, April 07, 2006

Chicken B'Stilla, AKA Sex on a Plate!

When it comes to cooking, the best skills you can have are: Knowing what a recipe will taste like just from reading it, and knowing when & how to push the flavour envelope.

And obviously, knowing how to combine ingredients is pretty important, knowing the processes and the science, y’know? I'm lucky I've got those skills. It's a creative thing for me.

This is one of THOSE recipes. The ace in the hole. The “yer friends’ll cancel other plans when you tell’em it’s on the menu” recipes. The “Jesus, they make food like that?” recipe. The "I want to get laid, and this is how to make it happen" kind of recipe. Yep. It's THAT good.

For me, one of the pinnacle culinary events of my life was when I had Chicken B’stilla for the first time at the age of about 15. Blew my frickin’ mind. It would be years and years before I’d progress past the meat’n’potatoes-Betty Crocker culinary existence that bored me into being, but to this day, this is the recipe I use when I’m thinkin’ “hey, look at me now, man.” Anthony Bourdain's food epiphany was a childhood trip to France. Me, it was a trip to the Sultan's Tent restaurant in Calgary. My GOD.

Honestly, you probably don’t deserve this recipe. No offense. I mean, like a magician, who the fuck wants to give their secrets away, y'know? I’ve seen Chicken B’stilla recipes and I’ve compared the ingredients and processes, and shit, they just ain’t got nothin’ on this particular take – the first take I was lucky enough to find. This is from an old, old California Culinary Institute recipe book – with my modifications instead of what’s there.

Face it, recipes are geared to the “common” tastes. You wanna be uncommon? Exceptional, even? Any savoury or spicy dish you make, bump the seasonings by 50% if not by double. They’re trying not to offend anyone’s sensibilities… and they’re also keeping the chef’s secret a secret. Come on. Do it. You know you wanna. Taste the goodness, man. You'll never go back.

About the chicken: You might want to take the easy way out and go and buy boneless, skinless breast, but really, consider this: bone-in, skin on, $2.79 a lb at my preferred bird retailer. Boneless, skinless? $4.82! Bah, not worth it. Stick it to the man and deal with bones. Be a chef.


Chicken B’Stilla, aka Moroccan Chicken Pie – Steff’s Way, Baby
  • 4 lbs bone-in chicken breast
  • 1 Spanish (Sweet) onion, quartered
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1.5 litres good chicken stock
  • Water as needed
In a large stock pot, combine the above ingredients until the chicken is covered. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and then simmer until chicken’s cooked, about 10 minutes. Set the chicken on a plate and allow to cool. Reserve 2 cups of the strained “stock” for this recipe, and set the remainder aside to use elsewhere (or freeze for future use – yum).

Now, put the 1.5 cups of stock into a small pot and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to about 3/4 or so cups of stock. Hang onto that bad boy for a bit.

When the chicken cools, shred it, watching out for bones, and first discarding the skin. Save the shredded chicken for a bit.
  • 3 tbsps butter
  • 1/4 lb slivered onions, broken/chopped into smaller chunks (I use a mallet, seriously. Who has the time?)
  • 1 Spanish (Sweet) onion, chopped finely
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
Combine these ingredients in a large pot (I use my big-assed wok) and sauté for about 10 minutes over medium heat. (You can increase the sweet/savoury component of this dish by caramelizing the onions a little, which means cooking them longer. I save time in prep by food-processing the onions until into a fine dice.)

While the above is cooking, combine all the following ingredients in a bowl:
  • 1.5 cups minced cilantro
  • 3/4 cup minced parsley
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 2 tsps kosher salt
  • 1.5 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1.5 tsps fresh-cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dried currants
The parsley and cilantro, I pulse them in the food processor until minced. It’s important the herbs be of a nice and small consistency, since that will give you a richer, more even flavour throughout this pie. When the onions are happy, happy, you toss the bowl of savoury goodness into the pot, saute it for a minute or two, then add:
  • about 3/4 cups of chicken stock (the reduced stuff)
  • plus reserved chicken
Now, sauté it over medium heat for about 3-5 minutes until you see it smiling happily up at you. Aww. How cute.
  • 4 large eggs, beaten thoroughly
Now, add the eggs to the mix, stir continuously for about 3 minutes, until the sauce thickens.

You should taste it in case it needs a little salt or pepper, but it should be fine. The flavours will meld better if you make this sauce a day in advance. You could warm it up slightly before it’s to go in the oven, but you want to be careful it doesn’t get too hot first.

Now you need yourself a nice, big spring-form pan. A 9-inch pan is minimum, but a 10-11-inch might be better. Buttah it, baby.
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 8 sheets phyllo pastry
You want to lightly brush a sheet of phyllo with butter* and lay it gently in the pan, sort of centered. Now, repeat the buttering process with each remaining sheet, laying one half inside, over the bottom of the pan, and letting the other half hang over the outside of the pan. Repeat this, offsetting each pastry sheet by a couple inches so they encircle your pan in a star-shaped pattern.

Now, quickly put the filling in the middle, smooth it out, and then gather up all the protruding sheets of phyllo and nicely enclose the top of the pie. For a decorative touch, you can take one more sheet, roll it loosely together lengthwise, then twist it together to form a rose. Set it on top of the pie, in the center. Then, to finish it off, brush the remaining butter all over the top of the pie, making sure you get it good and wet with it.

(If you’ve not much butter left, melt a couple tablespoons more. If you don’t get it saturated enough on top, it’ll brown too quickly, wrecking the look.)

Bake it for 55 minutes, or until caramel brown, in a 350 degree oven.
  • 2 tablespoons good icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
Now, don't pussy out and think, "Sugar? That's WEIRD. Nah. I'll leave that off." You fool! Do as you're told. Trust me. You know I know my thang. Sprinkle the cinnamon and icing sugar over the top of the pie before serving. Serves 8, in theory.

(I got creative and I made these as muffins, which ROCKED. Take six sheets of phyllo, use your pizza wheel, and cut them into quarters. Use three quarters per muffin, but only butter the top two sheets, since the buttered tin will take care of the first quarter sheet you insert. Fill the tin with filling, and then bunch up the phyllo over the top, and butter generously. Lower the oven heat to about 325, and cook for about 35 minutes. I'm freezing half of mine, and this makes about 18 muffins. MM-MM-Good! Have one with a nice, simple, pureed soup, or maybe a light salad with a lemon/olive oil/honey dressing, and it's an excellent lunch. Two with a salad makes a great dinner. It's one of those things that doesn't leave you lethargic, 'cos it's so protein rich. Enjoy!)

(*If you’ve never handled phyllo, take out only the amounts of sheets you need from a thawed package and return the remainder to the freezer. Work with a single sheet at a time, and meanwhile, keep the remaining sheets covered with a slightly damp towel so as to prevent their drying out. Make sure you’re not going to be interrupted, and work quickly, as a dry sheet is a breakable sheet.)