Move over chicken pot pie. I still love you but your super hot and exotic Moroccan counterpart Pastilla just showed up and I need to introduce it to all my friends.
This is the dinner party showstopper to end them all. Layers and layers (and layers) of buttery phyllo dough snuggle up and encase a savory filling that is oh so full of goodness. Cinnamon, garlic, red wine and cardamom mingle with a mix of rabbit and chicken until they are all in love with each other. And then it’s all doused in sugar! If that’s not a party I don’t know what is.
Pastilla is a very symbiotic dish — the crackling of the pastry shell, the shock of sweet from the generously sifted sugar, topped with the green of pistachios and herbs…and the heart of the beast: perfumed braised meat with a gravy as lush and rich as cream.
Don’t be afraid of making this dish! Pastilla’s best secret is how easy it really is. Like most braised dishes the filling is best prepared a day ahead and then it’s really just three simple parts: crust, innards, and toppings. So get to it! Invite some peeps over and celebrate for no reason — because you don’t need a reason to celebrate life and you definitely don’t need an excuse to make this beaut.
Chicken & Rabbit Pastilla
About 3 hours total time, but most prep work can be done way ahead.
For the Braise:
- 1 rabbit 2.5-3 LB
- 2 LB chicken thighs or do 2 rabbits!!
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 3" piece ginger cut into large chunks
- 10 garlic cloves
- 1 cup red wine
- 3-4 cups chicken stock
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp allspice berries
- 10 cardamom pods
- 2 large onions diced, yields 3-4 cups
- 1/2 cup golden raisens
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 TB cocoa powder
- 1 TB balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp spanish paprika
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 16 ounces baby spinach
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 preserved lemon sub regular lemon but it won't be the same but still great don't get worked up about it.
- 1 LB box phyllo dough
- 1 cup ghee or clarify your own butter. Either way have some extra on hand.
- 1/2 cup pistachios coarsely chopped
- handful scallions and parsely coarsely chopped
- powdered sugar
For the Braise:
If your rabbit is whole, quarter as you would a chicken. Click for a how-to video.
Crush the fennel, cardamom seeds and allspice in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder til powdered.
Set a large dutch oven over medium heath with a glug of olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper and sear the meat on each side. You'll likely have to do it in batches.
Return the meat to the pot and sprinkle the spices on top. Add the ginger, cinnamon sticks, garlic, wine and then enough stock to just cover the meat.
Cover and simmer 40-50 minutes until the meat is tender and easily pulls away. Remove the meat to a platter to cool. Return pot to heat and simmer til reduced by about half and the liquid has thickened. Fish out the ginger chunks and cinnamon sticks. Discard.
Shred the meat and stuff into container, pour reduced broth til meat is covered and refrigerate until ready to assemble.
For the Onion and Spinach Mixtures:
In a large skillet saute the onions in a bit of oil over medium-high heat. Season. Once they've begun to get toasty brown, add all the spices, sugar, vinegar, cocoa, and raisins. Stir to combine everything and taste, it should be very deep, concentrated flavor.
Remove mixture from skillet and refrigerate until ready to use. You might as well do the spinach next just give it a quick wipe, a little more oil and set back over heat.
Absolutely pulverize the preserved lemon by aggressively chopping it into itty-bitty pieces. Preserved lemon perfumes everything it touches and adds a magical Persian-y flavor but if the chunks are too big it's overwhelming. If you have a regular lemon just add the juice.
Dump the spinach into the pan add cinnamon, the lemon, and a pinch of salt. Saute til wilted, remove from pan and refrigerate until read to assemble.
PREHEAT OVEN TO 400*
Set up your station:
Get the braise and both mixtures out.
Drain the braise of any excess liquid, and stir the meat into the onion mixture.
Carefully unroll the phyllo dough, have a moist clean towel to keep it covered while you work to prevent drying and breakage.
Melt the ghee and lightly coat your largest, heftiest skillet.
Lay 10 sheets of the phyllo down as your base, brushing each piece with a little bit of ghee. Alternate the direction you lay the sheets down so that they're covering all sides and hanging out in a full circle.
Start piling in all the goodies! Layer the meat and onions down, then spinach, then a final layer of meat. It might dome out over the pan, which is totally fine because you're gonna snuggle it all up with more phyllo.
Cover the innards with the remaining sheets. Tuck them around the sides tightly like the pastilla is your little baby. You can sing it a bedtime story if you want, I won't judge.
Now overlap the top sheets with the overhanging bottom. Fold on top gently and neatly and press down to wrap it all up, brushing with final bits of ghee to seal. If it looks messy don't worry because this is actually the bottom and no one cares because even a silly looking pastilla is still a very impressive feat.
BAKE IN MIDDLE RACK 30 MINUTES. Check at twenty to make sure the top is not browning too fast. If it is -- move it down another rack, scold your oven for being an overachiever, and cover with tinfoil if you're still concerned. Burnt phyllo does not taste great.
Remove from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes. In the meantime chop pistachios, herbs, and look for a fine mesh sieve or something similar to sprinkle sugar.
Grab a dishtowel and a friend to flip this heavy beastie over. Slide a butter knife around the edges to loosen. Place a big serving plate on top of the skillet. Carefully and quickly flip the entire thing over so the pastilla inverts to the platter. It should absolutely slide out with ease due to the copious amounts of ghee.
Congratulations, you're now an Avenger.
Heavily powder the pie with sugar til it's dusted like a winter wonderland. Scatter the pistachios and herbs on top and serve immediately to very happy, very dazzled friends.
- The braise and mixtures can be made the day before and it's so much easier to assemble if everything's done ahead of time. So take my advice and do it that way.
- Rabbit is a fun different meat to try and readily available at your local butcher or quality grocery store. It adds a lovely light gamy flavor that compliments the spices and red wine. Try it.
- Fun Fact: Pastilla is traditionally made with pigeon. I don't know where to get pigeon (besides the park), but if I did, I would.