Cook N Bake Moroccan Series: Chicken Bestila

Rometti Limoncello Cook N Bake Moroccan Series Bestila

Like any other country Morocco also has its own special dish for special occasions, a culinary rich and elaborated delicacy prepared mainly for weddings and holidays, a traditional dish that looks like a dessert with the powder sugar sprinkled on top but does not taste sweet at all. Inside, in fact, you will find, wrapped in layers of warga (a Moroccan phyllo leaf), either pigeon or chicken.
Bestila, or bastila, is the Arabic word that comes from the Spanish pastilla after transforming the “p” into a “b”, and means indeed “bread”, “pastel”. Bestila seems to have something in common with the Mediterranean cuisine. As a matter of fact, although the name derives from Spanish language, there are traces of Bestila all over Europe. You can find a similar dish in the Andalusia region of Spain, but also in the Middle East were pastelis is a pie stuffed with beef, pine nuts and onions. French also has a similar dish in Corsica where bastella is a meat and vegetable pie.
Bestila is usually made with pigeons, however chicken has become more

common due to its easier availability. To make the filling, the meat is shredded and browned in oil. After removing the meat from the pan, onions, parsley, spices and water are added to the oil and cooked. The mixture is left to chill and beaten eggs added to make a sauce. Eventually the meat is added, including the skin, and left to chill for hours, usually overnight. It is only after this long process that you can start assembling the warga or phyllo dough brushed with butter, bake them and sprinkle some powdered sugar on top.
If you love cooking and challenge yourself with such an elaborated and tremendously delicious dish, or if for various reasons your Valentine’s Day dinner shifted to the weekend giving you lots of time to plan your menu, then Besila is the dish that will test your skills and yet will leave your significant other longing for more!


1 whole, large chicken, cut into pieces, skin and fat removed
2 very large sweet white onions, chopped medium
1 tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric (or 1/4 teaspoon Moroccan yellow colorant)
1 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
8 eggs, beaten

2 cups whole blanched almonds
vegetable oil, for frying the almonds
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons orange flower water
1 tablespoon butter, softened

1/2 kg (about 1 lb.) warqa or phyllo dough
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 egg yolk, beaten

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 or 3 tablespoons cinnamon

Cook the Chicken

Mix the chicken with onion, spices, butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven. Cover, and cook over medium to medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, or until the chicken is very tender and falls off the bone. Do not add water, and be careful not to burn the chicken or the sauce as this will ruin the dish.

Transfer the cooked chicken to a plate, and reduce the sauce in the pot until most of the liquids have evaporated and the onions form a mass in the oil. Stir occasionally, and adjust the heat as necessary to prevent burning.

While the sauce is reducing and the chicken is still warm, pick the meat off the bones, breaking it into small 2″ pieces. Stir in several spoonfuls of the onion mixture, cover the meat, and set aside.

Cook the Egg Stuffing

Transfer the remaining reduced onions and oil to a large non-stick skillet. Add the cilantro, and simmer for a minute or two. Add the beaten eggs, and cook as you would an omelet or scrambled eggs. Be patient, as it will take up to ten minutes for the eggs to set. Some oil separating from the eggs is OK. Set the egg stuffing aside.

Make the Almond Topping

Heat 1/2″ of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat for about five minutes, or until the oil is hot. Test the oil by dropping in an almond. If tiny bubbles rapidly rise around the almond within a few seconds, the oil is ready. If the oil boils and splatters immediately, it’s too hot.

Fry the almonds in batches, stirring constantly, until golden brown. As soon as the almonds are richly colored, transfer them to a tray lined with paper towels to drain and cool. Fried almonds will continue to darken a bit after frying, so be careful not to burn them while they’re in the oil.

When the almonds have cooled completely, pulse them in a food processor until finely ground. Put them in a mixing bowl, and with your hands work in the powdered sugar, orange flower water, and tablespoon of butter. Set aside.

Assemble the Bastilla

Generously oil a 14″ or larger round pan. If you don’t have a round pan, work on an oiled flat baking sheet or large plate, and shape a circular pie as best you can.

Brush melted butter on each sheet of warqa or phyllo dough as you work. If using phyllo, take care to keep it covered with plastic as you work since it dries out very quickly.

Using your pan as a guide, overlap three or four single layers of warqa (shiny side down) – or double layers of phyllo dough – in a circular fashion, so that the inner halves of the pastry dough overlap in the center, and the excess dough drapes over the edges of the pan. (Remember to butter each layer of dough.)

Place one buttered 12″ circle of warqa, or two 12″ buttered circles of phyllo, in the center of the pan. This forms the bottom of the pie.

Cover the 12″ circle with the chicken filling, and distribute the egg stuffing over the chicken.

Top the egg stuffing with another buttered 12″ circle of warqa (shiny side up), or two 12″ buttered circles of phyllo. Spread the almond topping over this layer of dough.

Fold the excess dough up and over the almonds to enclose the pie. Flatten and smooth any bulky areas.

Brush butter on the folded edges of dough, and top with three more overlapping layers of warqa (shiny side up) or phyllo, brushing butter on each layer. Fold down the edges of dough and carefully tuck them underneath the pie, molding and shaping the bastilla as you go.

Use your hands to spread the egg yolk over the top and sides of the pie. Lightly oil the bastilla in the same manner.

The bastilla is now ready for baking. It can be covered in plastic and stored in the refrigerator for up to a day, or in the freezer for up to two months.
Bake the Bastilla

Preheat an oven to 350° F (180° C). Place the bastilla on an oiled flat baking sheet in the middle of the oven, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Note that a bastilla placed into the oven directly from the freezer will take up to an hour to bake.

Garnish and Serve

Generously coat the bastilla with sifted powdered sugar. Sift the cinnamon on top of the sugar, or use the cinnamon to decorate the top of the pie.

Serve immediately.

Recipe courtesy of