Saturday, 1 January 2011

Moroccan pastilla with wood pigeon and chicken, served with jeweled cous cous

Pies are apparently the big food trend for 2011. According to Serious Eats, 2010 was the year of the cupcake, but this year it's all about pies - so what better way to start the blog in 2011 than with a pastry topped creation.

But what pie to begin with?

I think I've mentioned in a previous post that the food at mine and Mathew's wedding was a huge Moorish feast. 

My dad didn't do the catering, we hired in a local Moroccan restaurant to supply the saffron chicken, spicy tagines, merguez sausage with harissa paste, and a number of pastries and sweets with rose water, pistacho and fruit centres. But my dad did make some other delicious things to accompany the restaurants offerings - I'd like to say it was because we got nervous there might not being enough food, but actually it was because as a family we're a bit greedy for lots of different tastes, hunger doesn't come in to it. 

The day before the wedding my dad was in the restaurant kitchen, immersed in cooking, chatting and drinking red wine (his usual trio of pursuits). At first it looked like he was making a strudel, but as I got closer and saw the colour of the meat and the bowl of toasted flaked almonds I knew what he was up to; making a pigeon pastilla. And being as it would be making an appearance on our big day, it seemed eminently sensible that we try it first. 

We only intended it to be sampled by a few of us, but it was so good that word soon got out and most of the guests got to devour a piece or two with gusto. None of it made it to the wedding day feast.

For ease I've used breast meat for this recipe rather than cooking the birds on the bone and picking the meat off, and whilst I love the gentle gamey flavour of the pigeon, to keep the dish light I've used a mix of half pigeon and half chicken.

The ingredients list is very long, but these are the wonderfully complex, sweet and umami flavours of Moroccan food and this is a dish that's easy to prepare once you get going. We like to eat it at lunch but it would also go down really well at a dinner party perhaps as a starter on account of it being a bit different and just delicious. 

If you can't find pigeon near to where you live (the eating variety) then I can recommend the wonderful Wild Meat Company who will deliver it direct to your door. Their service, pricing and meat quality are second to none and I'm a real fan.

For two pigeon pastillas which should feed 8 as a snack or light lunch, or 4 as a main meal:
For the pastillas - 
300g pigeon breasts, skin off (this is about 6 pigeon breasts) - diced
300g chicken breasts, skin off (this is about 1 medium-large breast) - diced
2 large golden onions, finely diced
1 green chili (not authentic but we like chili in this house), finely chopped and deseeded if you don't like it too hot
1 large thumb sized piece of ginger, minced
2 fat cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon black peppercorns - ground down
1 teaspoon coriander seeds - ground down
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 cardamom pods, seeds removed and pods discarded
1 tablespoon regular sugar
250mls water
3 eggs, beaten
A handful of both fresh flat leaf parsley and coriander
50g flaked almonds, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
8 sheets of filo pastry
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (for the top)
1 tablespoon icing sugar
100g unsalted butter, melted
Olive oil and unsalted butter for frying
Sea salt
2 x 9" cake tins - the type with the removable base

For the cous cous - 
Use the cous cous recipe in my blog entry in December 2009 - and add the seeds of half a pomegranate to the top of the cous cous once placed in your serving bowl. You're best to get the seeds out b holding the cut pomegranate in your hand and hitting its skin side with a wooden spoon.

- Add a generous knob of butter and glug of olive oil to a frying pan on a medium heat and when it starts to foam, add the onions and cook until turning lightly golden
- Add to the pan the ginger, garlic, chili and the dry spices and combine the mixture, cooking for around five minutes until the aromas really come out
- Add the chicken and pigeon to the pan and a generous scrunch of sea salt, turn the heat down and cook the mixture for around 10-15 minutes until the meat has been lightly seared
- Add some of the water to the pan (you're using it so that the ingredients dont catch while the mixture is cooking down) and stir and place the lid on the pan
- Cook for 1 hour on the hob stirring it regularly and adding more water if it needs it to stop it catching
- Pre heat your oven to 200 degrees- Add the fresh coriander and parsley to the beaten egg and mix thoroughly  
- After the hour cooking the meat should have become very tender and when you gently press it with the back of a spoon it should break a little - the sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon
- Pour the beaten egg mixture to the pan and let it sit in the pan for a couple of minutes without moving it, then begin to stir it through the meat so it creates a scrambled egg type mixture in the sauce, this should take around 2 minutes then you can turn the heat off
- Butter the inside of your cake tins with the melted unsalted butter
- Lay your first sheet of filo in the tin, covering just over a quarter of the base and letting the sides fall over the edge and out. Now butter that pastry on the base and sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon, icing sugar and some toasted almonds. Then lay your second sheet of filo over another quarter of the tin but overlapping the first piece (so the mixture will be well sealed inside), butter this and repeat with almond, sugar and cinnamon and the third and fourth sheets of filo. You should end up with the base of the tin covered with 4 layers of filo each separated by cinnamon, sugar and almonds, and the rest of the filo hanging well over the edge of the tin. 
- To the top of the final layer of filo add a sprinkle of the almonds, sugar and cinnamon once more and then layer in half of your pigeon mixture until the tin is evenly covered with the mix
- Add some more flaked almonds to the top of the mixture and then pick up the filo that's hanging over the edge (this bit sees all of them being layered back over the top in the reverse order to how they went down so start with the last one you put in) and drape it over the top of the mix, butter the top of this filo, add a sprinkle of icing sugar, cinnamon and almonds and then bring up the third piece of filo and drape this over the top - repeat with the buttering and spicing and remaining two sheets
- You now should have a pie that's totally encased by filo - butter the top and repeat the process with the rest of the mixture and filo using your other cake tin
- Place them into your oven for 20 minutes or until they're golden brown
- Remove from the oven and place on a plate for serving. Lightly dust ground cinnamon over the top and then icing sugar - I held a piece of paper of the pie in two different places to give the stripy effect but this isn't essential, more just because it looks nice
- Serve with the jewelled cous cous or along side a saucy tagine 


  1. This is food heaven in a glorious sugar dusted filo wrap. Made 2 on Saturday and was so delighted with how it turned out that I made it again for tea on Monday. Naughty!
    Don't be put off by the ingredient list, it's mostly a matter of adding spices to the pan and is easier to make than it looks . . . . and well worth the effort.
    Ciara x

  2. Secret Diary of a Foodie25 August 2011 at 14:42

    Ah Im so glad you liked them Ciara - I love the pastilla its so nice and moreish (no pun intended!) x