Bisteeya (biss-tee-yah) is possibly the most sophisticated and elaborate Moroccan dish. It’s a combination of incredibly diverse and tasty flavors. A huge pie, bisteeya consists of the thinnest, flakiest pastry, filled with three layers – spicy pieces of pigeon (or chicken), lemony-eggs cooked in a savory onion sauce, and toasted sweetened almonds.
Also called B’stella and Pistilla, Bisteeya is a classic dish that showcases the historical depths of Moroccan cuisine. What started a long time ago as a simple dish of chicken cooked in saffron and butter, became a classic after being enhanced in the royal kitchens of Morocco. Pigeons replaced chicken, delicate Persian pastry was added, and cooking ideas from Andalusia in Spain were all incorporated to make this once simple dish a classic worthy of serving to royalty. This recipe has been adapted from Paula Wolfert’s 1973 book “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco”.
“A true culinary zealot, Paula Wolfert champions forgotten dishes, uncovers regional cooking in surprising places, and reminds us of our resources and roots.” – Alice Waters
Bisteeya – Moroccan Flaky Chicken Pie
- Large Dutch oven with cover or large heavy pot
- small frying pan
- small saucepan
- Pastry brush
- 3½ lb Cut-up fryer chicken
- 2 tbsp Butter
- 4 cloves Garlic, minced
- 2 medium Onions, chopped
- 4 cups Water
- 1 cup Flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- ¼ tsp Saffron
- ¼ tsp Turmeric
- 1 tsp Black pepper
- ¾ tsp Ground ginger
- 1 cup Slivered almonds
- 1 cup Pistachios, roughly chopped
- 3 sticks Cinnamon (or 1 tsp ground)
- 1 tsp Salt
- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- ½ cup Sugar, confectioners
- 1½ tsp Ground cinnamon
- 8 large Eggs, scrambled
- 1 cup Clarified butter (see notes) or ghee (Ghee recipe)
- ¼ cup Lemon juice
- 3 tbsp Preserved lemon skin, chopped (optional)
- 1 lb Frozen phyllo dough sheets
Prepare Chicken Filling
- Rinse chicken, coat pieces with garlic and lightly salt. Set aside.In a large Dutch oven or pot, sauté onions in butter over medium heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add chicken, water, parsley, saffron, turmeric, black pepper, ginger, and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and simmer, covered, for 1¼ hours.Remove chicken and any bones from pot. Leave stock on medium heat to reduce.When chicken has cooled enough to handle, discard skin and bones and shred meat meat with your fingers into small 1-inch shreds (perfection not necessary). Set aside.
Prepare Nut Layer
- Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Add almonds and pistachios. Stir until brown. Keep an eye on them so they don't burn. Remove from heat and cool. Once cooled, s tir in confectioner's sugar and ground cinnamon. Set aside.
Prepare Egg Layer
- Reduce the stock until a thick and viscous onion mixture remains. Add lemon juice and preserved lemon, if using. Vigorously whisk in eggs and cook until thick and dry. Set aside.
- Warm ghee or clarified butter (see Notes) in a small saucepan. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).Two hours before using, remove phyllo from the refrigerator. Stack phyllo sheets on the counter. Keep covered with a moist kitchen towel to keep moist. Begin laying 6 pieces of phyllo, one at a time, on a greased round cake pan or pie plate. Brush the top of each sheet with warmed clarified butter. Let the sheets overhang the pan and lay the next piece partially overlapping the previous one. Brush the top with the butter. Do all six pieces in this fashion to create a fan that covers the bottom of the whole pan and sides. Scatter ½ of the nuts inch over the bottom. Evenly spread all of the chicken filling next. Cover chicken layer with all the egg mixture and then scatter the remaining toasted nuts over that. Pull the extended phyllo leaves towards the center to lay over the filling. Shape your pie into a round shape as you go.Using another 6 sheets of phyllo, Create another "fan", buttering each sheet as you go and tucking the loose edges under the pie this time. Give the whole thing one final brush of ghee and bake for 30 minutes. If pie is not golden brown yet, increase oven temp to 400°F (200°C) and bake for another 5-10 minutes.
- Remove pie from oven and slip onto a serving dish. Dust with powdered sugar and, using your fingers, decorate with lines of ground cinnamon. Carefully cut into triangles and serve.
- If ghee is not available, make a quick clarified butter by slowly melting 1 stick of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Skim solids from the surface and pour remaining clear liquid into a bowl. Discard any remaining solids on the bottom of the pan.
- Save any excess shredded chicken for another use.