Friday, February 21, 2014

Recommended Recipes: Moroccan Chicken Pie

I tried a version of this recipe over twenty years ago. Our daughter was just a toddler, and I found the recipe, as best I can recall, in Parents Magazine. I liked the dish. It's unique combination of sweet and savory spices along with the light and delicate crust made for a truly memorable dinner, but unfortunately the magazine went out the door before I saved the recipe. Last year I took it upon myself to track down the recipe. I was sure that with the internet I would be able to find it. Unfortunately, after many internet searches under a variety of search phrases, I was unable to find it. I did find a recipe for Moroccan Chicken stew (tagine) that was excellent, but it wasn’t the dish I had made years ago.

I gave up my search for Moroccan chicken pie. Much to my surprise, however, just a couple of months later, the recipe found me! It was in January when our daughter was getting ready to drive back to grad school. She wanted to go by a clothing store to shop for a few things, so I strolled around the shop while she and my wife perused the clothing. Not many things are more boring to me than women’s clothing stores, but as I was strolling about, I notice on one of the shelves was a cook book. Cook books I find interesting. The title was Fireside Feasts and Snow Day Treats by Ellen Parnavelas, published by Ryland Peters & Small (London).

I took the book down and thumbed through the pages. It was a beautifully photographed collection of recipes characterized as “indulgent comfort food for winter eating and entertaining.” As I looked through the edition, there on page 74 was a recipe for Moroccan chicken pie! I looked over the ingredients, and it appeared to be very near the recipe I remembered – perhaps the exact one, who knows? I cooked it last week on Valentine’s day and it was a great success. It was served with some rice pilaf, then on Sunday we had leftovers with sides of barley and baked sweet potato. Both meals were exceptional! It was the taste I had been looking for, and my wife loved it as well. The fillo dough crust gives it a light touch, not the heaviness that you get from a chicken pot pie with regular pie crust. 

I bought chicken thighs for the recipe from Whole Foods because we are trying to use only humanely raised meat when we do eat meat. Another good thing about the package of thighs was that they were already de-boned, saving me a step in the cooking/preparation process. I did make some slight variations. Instead of making one large pie, I used smaller baking dishes to make three pies (and gave one to a neighbor).  I did not bother with cutting a circle of fillo dough to fit the pie pan. Fillo dough is tricky enough as it is. I simply sprayed the dish with cooking oil and then lay the fillo dough out, one sheet at a time, spreading each sheet with melted butter and letting it hang over the edges. After filling the dishes, I folded over the overhanging dough, as described in the recipe, to make the top crust (I also added a few pieces of fillo dough on top, still spreading with butter  as I went).

One of the three small pies I made (about two servings)
Instead of the fresh coriander, I used about a teaspoon of ground coriander which I had on hand in the spice cabinet. The other change I made was to omit the garlic and cilantro, out of personal preference. My cooking time was reduced to around 20 minutes because I was using smaller dishes.

Here is the recipe as given in Fireside Feasts and Snow Day Treats by Ellen Parnavelas:

Moroccan chicken pie

Ideal for large gatherings or buffets, this is best when made in advance giving the flavours time to mingle. The filling can also be made into individual pies or pastries. Serve with a grated carrot salad and plenty of buttery couscous.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • a pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 8 chicken thighs, skin removed
  • 40 g/ ½ cup raisins
  • 35 g/ ½ cup flaked almonds
  • a large handful of fresh coriander/cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 270 g/9 ¾  oz. ready-made filo/phyllo pastry
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
You will need a 24-cm / 9 ½ inch round baking dish or tart pan, greased

Serves 4-6


Heat the oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onion and cook for 5-8 minutes, until just soft. Stir in the spices and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken and stir to coat in the spiced oil. Add 190 ml/ ¾ cup water and the raisins. Season generously with salt. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred the meat and discard the bones. Return the meat to the cooking juices. Mix well, taste and adjust the seasoning. The mixture should be very moist but it should not be soupy. If there is a lot of liquid, return to the heat and cook to reduce slightly. Stir in the almonds, coriander/cilantro and lemon juice. Set aside.

To assemble, place 2 sheets of filo/phyllo on the work surface. Using the baking dish, cut out 2 circles of pastry to fit. Cover with a clean, damp dish towel and set aside. Line the sides of the dish with the remaining pastry, positioning each one with an overhang and not quite reaching the middle. Continue until the edge is covered with overhanging sheets of filo/phyllo. Brush the dish with melted butter and top with one of the pastry circles. Brush with more butter and top with the remaining circle.

Transfer the chicken mixture to the filo/phyllo -lined dish, spreading it evenly. Fold in the overhanging filo to part-enclose the filling, crinkling it as you go. Brush with melted butter.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until just golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.


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