This Moroccan poultry pie combines sweet and savory flavors in one amazing dish. Traditionally served as a starter at festive occasions such as weddings, it can also make for a really special main dish.
Make this with chicken, Cornish game hens, quail, or the traditional squab (pigeon).
Visit People Like Pie for much more about making this dish.
Serves 4-6 as a meal, more as a starter
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
5 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on; or 3 lbs squab (about 5-6 birds) (see notes)
3 cups lightly salted chicken stock or broth
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
4 fat cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon ras el hanout
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
3 Tablespoons minced cilantro
3 Tablespoons minced parsley
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Ground black pepper to taste
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more to grease the pan
Flour for dusting the pan
9-10 sheets phyllo dough at room temperature, still in the packaging (plus a few more just in case)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1. Place the saffron threads in a small glass dish with 1 teaspoon very warm water. Stir to combine and set aside.
2. Choose a 4 quart saucepan or pot in which to make the filling. Put the dry pan over medium high heat and add the almonds to it, tossing them for 4-5 minutes as needed to toast them until browned and fragrant. Pour the almonds onto a plate to cool while you work.
3. Add the chicken stock and chicken thighs or squab to the same pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer until poultry is cooked through, about 40-45 minutes. Transfer poultry to a plate to cool.
4. Bring the stock back up to a boil over medium-high heat and allow it to boil with the lid off and reduce to 1 cup. While the stock reduces, remove and discard the skin and bones from the poultry and shred the meat. When the stock has reduced, pour it into a measuring cup to confirm you have 1 cup and set aside. Do not skim the fat.
5. Add the olive oil to the same pan and warm over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring as needed to prevent sticking, until soft and golden, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the ras el hanout, chile flakes and saffron mixture and cook for 1-2 minutes, then remove the pan from heat and set aside.
6. Combine the reserved stock and eggs like this:
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until frothy. Stir the reserved stock to mix the fat from the top into the liquid. Then, while whisking the eggs continuously, gradually pour a steady stream of broth into the eggs until it has all been incorporated and you have formed an emulsified (blended) sauce. Set aside.
7. Pour the cooled almonds into a food processor and pulse until finely ground.
8. Put the pan back over medium heat and stir in the almonds, shredded meat, egg sauce, cilantro, parsley, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer while using a rubber or wooden spatula to loosen any flavorful bits that have become stuck to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
9. When you are ready to build and bake the pie, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Thoroughly grease and flour the springform pan. Melt the remaining butter and set aside with a pastry brush.
10. Set up your workspace, keeping the phyllo dough in its packaging while you get everything else ready: greased and floured springform pan, filling mixture at room temperature, and melted butter with pastry brush. When you are ready to begin building the pie, remove the dough from its packaging and lay the stack of phyllo sheets on a large sheet of wax paper, with another sheet of wax paper on top. As you work, you will want to keep the unused sheets covered with wax paper so they don't dry out and become brittle.
11. Line the pan with a sheet of phyllo, working carefully to fit it into the contours of the pan, and allowing the extra to hang out. Follow with another sheet, placed at right angles to the first sheet. Brush the bottom and inside walls with melted butter, then follow with a third sheet, again at right angles. Spread about 1/3 of the filling mixture over the dough, then cover it with another sheet of phyllo. Brush with butter and add another sheet of phyllo. Spread another 1/3 of the filling over the dough, then cover with another sheet of phyllo. Brush with butter, add another sheet of phyllo and spread the final 1/3 filling mixture over the dough. Keep moving, so the phyllo doesn't dry out too much and become brittle.
12. Carefully, about one sheet at a time, fold the extra dough that is hanging over the edges back over the filling, dabbing it with melted butter as you go to hold the layers together. If the dough has dried a bit, it may begin to break as you do this - that's okay. The point is to have several layers of buttered phyllo covering the filling in the end.
13. Place a sheet of phyllo over the pie, tuck it in a bit of it around the edges and remove any that resists tucking. Brush with butter and repeat, at right angles to the prior layer. Brush the top with butter, place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden brown and you can hear the pie bubbling and sizzling.
14. Let the pie cool slightly on a rack, then remove the springform mold (see notes for an easy way to do this). Place the pie on a serving dish and dust it with powdered sugar. Use your fingers to sprinkle the cinnamon in a nice design (diamonds or squares are standard), as shown here:
15. When you are ready to serve, be sure your guests get to see and appreciate the beautiful design you have created before you cut into it! To cut, use a good-quality serrated knife in a back-and-forth motion to gently cut through the layers of phyllo and filling. As you cut each slice, the phyllo dough will shatter and fall apart a bit, and the sugar and cinnamon topping will begin to fall into the lower layers of the pie, so that all the flavors mix together.
As best as I can tell, it's impossible to cut perfectly-formed wedges of this pie. The phyllo breaks apart, and that's just par for the course. As I mentioned in the final step, all the flavors and textures blend together, so the whole effect is really great. The only caution I would share about the cutting-and-serving process is to slice gently with a serrated knife, so you don't crush and flatten the layers together too much as you go.
I was unable to find squab when I was testing this recipe (unfortunately!), so I made it with the chicken thighs. The process is exactly the same, though, whatever kind of poultry you're using.
This is designed for using a spingform pan, so it can be unmolded before serving. If you're not familiar with this process, look at the picture and read the caption for the easiest way to do it:
If you don't have a springform pan, you can use a deep dish pie pan, but obviously the layers might fit a little differently and you may need to adjust cooking times accordingly. And instead of unmolding, you would just serve slices out of the pie pan, of course. (And if you're thinking about getting a springform pan, just go for it! Convenient for lots of things. I'm including a link to a good pan on Amazon.)
You can make the filling mixture a couple days ahead and keep it refrigerated until you are ready to fill the pie. The flavor will continue to develop nicely as it sits.
Adapted from Moroccan Pigeon Pie at Saveur.com.