Bastila of Fes with chicken or quail

Serves 12 as a starter Starters and mains




  • 6 x 175g chicken thighs on the bone, or 6 x 175g semi-boned large quails
  • 3tbsp saffron water (see above)
  • 1tsp powdered ginger
  • ¼tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼tsp grated nutmeg
  • 2 x 5cm soft cinnamon sticks
  • ½ large red onion, grated
  • 30g chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 15g chopped coriander leaves
  • 115g clarified butter
  • 4tbsp vegetable oil
  • 375g blanched whole almonds
  • 40g icing sugar, plus more for dusting
  • 1½tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon, plus more for dusting
  • 4tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 9 medium eggs
  • 225g filo pastry
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 30cm deep-dish pizza pan
  • 35cm round baking tray


Place the chicken thighs or quail in a large flameproof casserole. Mix the saffron water in a bowl with the ginger, ¾tsp black pepper, turmeric, nutmeg and 1tsp of coarse sea salt. Pour the mixture over the chicken or quail, toss the bird in the liquid to ensure it has been thoroughly covered, then set aside for 10 minutes.

Lightly bruise the cinnamon sticks, then add them with the grated onion, parsley, coriander, half the butter and 360ml cold water to the casserole. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes for quail, or 45 minutes for chicken.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the almonds, frying them for 3-5 minutes or until they are lightly brown. Remove the nuts from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. When the almonds are cool, set aside 18 of them for the garnish, and coarsely grind the remainder in a food processor.

Combine the ground almonds with the 40g icing sugar and 1½tsp ground cinnamon. Set aside.

Remove the bird from the casserole and place it on a clean work surface, then remove and discard the cinnamon sticks. When the chicken or quail is cool enough to handle, remove all the meat from the bones and roughly shred it with your hands, discarding the skin.

Bring the cooking liquid back to the boil and reduce, uncovered, to about 320ml. Reduce the heat until the liquid is simmering, then add the lemon juice. Beat the eggs in a bowl until frothy, then slowly pour them into the simmering sauce, stirring continuously in one direction, until the eggs cook and set (they should become ‘curdy’ in texture). Add salt to taste.

At this point, the chicken or quail and the egg mixture can be cooled, placed in separate containers and kept in the fridge overnight. If finishing the dish the next day, also store the ground almond mixture in a cool place, though not in the fridge.

About an hour before you want to serve, preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7. Fold 4 filo leaves in half, place them on a baking tray and bake them for 30 seconds or until crisp and golden. Or, gently fry the folded leaves in a lightly oiled frying pan for 30 seconds. Unroll the other filo leaves and place them under a damp tea towel to prevent them from drying out.

Warm the remaining clarified butter in a small saucepan. Brush some of the butter over the bottom and sides of a 30cm deep-dish pizza pan or similar round tin. Cover the bottom of the pan with one pastry leaf.

Arrange six or seven more filo leaves, so each leaf covers a portion of the bottom of the pan and hangs over the sides, until the entire bottom of the pan is covered.

Place another leaf in the centre of the pan. Lightly brush the overhanging filo leaves with butter so they don’t dry out. Place some of the chicken or quail around the edges of the pan, then work towards the centre so that the pastry is covered with an even layer of poultry. Cover the chicken or quail with the welldrained egg mixture and then the baked or fried pastry leaves.

Sprinkle the almond and sugar mixture over the pastry. Cover with all but two of the remaining pastry leaves. Brush every leaf lightly with butter. Fold the overlapping leaves over the top to envelop the pie. Lightly brush the edges with some of the beaten egg yolk and place the remaining two leaves, overlapping, on top. Fold the edges under the pie, as if you were tucking in bed sheets.

Brush the filo with butter and the remaining beaten egg yolk. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.

Remove the pie from the oven, shake the pan to loosen it and run a palette knife around the edges. If necessary, tilt the pan to pour off excess butter, which should be reserved. Carefully invert the pie and turn it out onto a buttered 35cm round baking tray. Brush the pie with any reserved butter and bake for a further 10 minutes to crisp up the pastry.

Remove the pie from the oven. Tilt to pour off any excess butter. Put a large serving platter over the pie and, holding them firmly together, invert. This is done because the traditional upper filling is always the almond layer. Dust the top of the pie with a little icing sugar, then run criss-crossing lines of cinnamon over the top. Decorate with the reserved whole almonds and serve very hot.

Saffron water - MAKES 240ML

* ½tsp saffron threads

Dry ½tsp of crumbled saffron strands in a warm – not hot – pan. Crush the dried strands in a mortar, then soak them in 240ml hot water, leave to cool and store in a small jar in the fridge. The saffron water will keep for up to a week.

Recipes and photographs taken from The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert, photography by Quentin Bacon (Bloomsbury, £35).
Recipes and photographs taken from The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert, photography by Quentin Bacon (Bloomsbury, £35).


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