Serve this with a big plate of orange slices and arugula drizzled in lemon juice and olive oil, and with great pride.
To serve 4 shameless or 6 polite guests
6 chicken thighs with skin and bones (about 1¾ pound)
2 ½ teaspoons salt
1 heaped teaspoon pepper
8–10 pitted dates
3 medium onions, peeled and sliced thinly
1 cinnamon stick
1 dried red chili (you can remove the seeds if you prefer milder flavors)
2 heaped tablespoon ras el hanut spice mix
1 cup water
1 packet of phyllo pastry (about ½ pound)
¼ cup melted butter (or oil/other fat if avoiding dairy)
1) Heat your oven to 400° F.
2) Put a large frying pan on a medium heat. Place the chicken thighs skin-side down in it and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. You won’t need to add any oil to cook it in, as the skin will render a lot of fat. Keep it on a medium heat and allow the skin to crisp and color. This will take about 10–15 minutes. Once the skin is all crisp and golden, flip the thighs and cook on the other side for 5 minutes, then use tongs to remove them to an ovenproof pan that is large enough to contain them all in one layer. Add the pitted dates.
3) Keep the fat in the frying pan and add the sliced onions and the remaining 1½ teaspoons of salt. Cook the onions until they are soft and starting to go golden. Add the cinnamon stick, dried chili and ras el hanut spice and mix well. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, pour over the chicken thighs in the ovenproof pan. Cover the pan and place in the center of the oven to cook for 1 hour.
4) Open the lid carefully and check whether the chicken is fully cooked — it should just fall off the bone. If it is still a little tough, cook for a further 10–15 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
5) Carefully pour the contents of the pan into a sieve over a bowl. Retain the cooking liquid. Pull the chicken from the bones, discarding them along with any cartilage. Remove the chili and the cinnamon stick. Mix the chicken meat together with the cooked dates and onions, along with just enough liquid to bind the mixture well — any remaining liquid can be kept to warm through and use as extra sauce when serving. You can prepare this chicken-date-onion mixture up to 2 days in advance. Store in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the pastilla.
6) Preheat your oven to 400° F.
7) Lay the opened packet of phyllo pastry on the table. Carefully peel off the first sheet and use a brush to butter it, then fold into four and set aside (this folded square will give a thicker base to the pastilla). Peel off the next sheet and butter it, cover with another sheet and set aside. Repeat with two more sheets, so that you have two sheets of double thickness.
8) Place one doubled sheet lengthways on the table, put the folded square in the center of it and lay the other doubled sheet on top at 90° to the first sheet, to make a cross-shape that is thickest in the middle.
9) Carefully lift the pastry cross off the table and place in a 8–9 inch ovenproof frying pan or cake tin. Let it line the tin or pan with the sides of the pastry hanging over the edge. Fill with the chicken mixture and fold the corners over to cover it. We like to make the top a little crumpled so it looks natural. Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining butter and place in the center of the oven for 15 minutes. After this time, turn the tin around so that the pastilla cooks evenly, and bake for a further 10–15 minutes or until the pastry is all golden and crisp.
10) Serve immediately, with a jug of the warm cooking liquid as sauce and a fresh green salad on the side.
Recipe courtesy Little, Brown and Company. Copyright© Saritamar Media Limited 2014.
This story "Honey & Co.’s Chicken Pastilla" was written by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer.