This Moroccan Chicken Pie is easily one of my favorite foods. I remember the first time I took a bite…it was an explosion of flavor and I couldn’t get enough of it. Crispy, buttery, flaky, sweet, savory, nutty, spiced, herbed…oh it’s just too good.
And the whole process of making it is nearly as satisfying as its taste.
An exotic mixture of spices—cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and saffron—are tossed into a pot of sautéed onions, and the whole house fills with this intoxicatingly sweet yet savory aroma. A pour of chicken broth helps deglaze the bottom of the pot of all that delicious flavor. Then, chicken thighs are added in, which simmer happily in this sultry mixture for the next twenty minutes. While the mixture on the stove bubbles, you work on the pie’s crust.
The crust is a careful layering of paper-thin phyllo, melted butter, and a sprinkling of almonds, sugar and spice. I know it sounds a lot like baklava, but trust me, when these sweet, buttery, flaky layers are grounded by the savory spiced filling above, your mind will explode.
Back to the filling: once the chicken is cooked through, it’s shredded and tossed back into the golden sauce, along with a handful of chopped golden raisins. The saucey chicken continues to simmer down into a thick mixture, at which point, the flavors are brightened and intensified by the addition of freshly chopped parsley and cilantro.
This divine mixture is poured into a pie pan already prepared with the bottom crust. The top crust pops on top to form a lid, is tucked in neatly around all sides, and the dish goes in the oven for 40 minutes, giving you some down time to tidy up and set the table before dinner is served.
moroccan chicken pie
[for the filling]
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs
1/4 cup chopped golden raisins
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper, to taste
[for the crust]
1/2 cup almonds
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
10 sheets phyllo dough, thawed if frozen (this usually amounts to roughly half a roll, or 1/4 lb, of the 1-pound packages you can find in the freezer section of most grocery stores)
1/2 cup butter, melted
special equipment: parchment paper (optional), dish towel or plastic wrap, 9-inch pie pan, pastry brush
Make the filling. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and saffron and stir for 1 minute. Add flour and stir for 1 minute more. Slowly pour in chicken broth, stir well, and bring mixture to a simmer. Give the chicken thighs a generous sprinkling of salt, and then carefully place them in simmering stock. Continue to simmer on medium low uncovered on the stove until the chicken is fully cooked, about 20-25 minutes.
Once fully cooked, remove chicken from pot and use two forks to pull apart and loosely shred (you can leave some larger chunks). Return shredded chicken to pot, along with the chopped golden raisins. If the sauce seems too thin, continue to simmer it down until it thickly coats the chicken. Remove from heat, stir in chopped parsley and cilantro, season with salt and pepper to taste, and allow to cool completely.
Prepare the crust. In a blender or food processor, combine almonds, powdered sugar, cinnamon and salt and pulse into a fine grind. Set aside.
On a clean work surface, lay out a sheet of parchment paper. Remove phyllo dough from its packaging, gently unroll, remove 10 sheets, lay them out on the parchment and cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap to prevent drying out. Return the rest of the unused phyllo to its packaging and store in the fridge for another use.
Invert a 9-inch pie pan on top of the stack of phyllo and use a sharp knife to cut around, giving a good 1-inch border (so, creating ten approximately 10-inch rounds; the typical grocery store brand of phyllo dough isn’t quite wide enough, so your circle will have two flat sides, but that’s okay.) Flip the pie pan right-side up and brush the bottom and sides generously with melted butter. Lay 1 parchment round inside the buttered pie dish, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle evenly with about 1 tablespoon of the almond mixture. (If your phyllo round comes up a bit short on two sides, just cut some scraps into strips and lay them against the sides of the pie dish, butter them, and continue. You can see in the picture below how I patch mine together each layer.) Top with a second parchment round, brush it with butter, and sprinkle it with another tablespoon of almond mixture. Repeat three more times, until you have a stack of 5-layers in the bottom of the pie pan. Brush the top layer with butter.
On a clean work surface (or a sheet of parchment paper—my preference), lay out another round of phyllo. Brush with butter and top with a 1-tablespoon sprinkling of almond mixture. Repeat process four more times, until you have a stack of 5-layers that will form the top crust. Brush the top layer with melted butter and cut four slits in the top for vents. Sprinkle any remaining almond mixture into the bottom of the pie pan already lined with crust.
Assembly. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pour the cooled chicken filling into the pie pan already prepared with the bottom crust. Gently lift up and place the top crust over the filling, tucking the edges in all the way around. Pour any remaining melted butter on top, and bake at 375 degrees until heated through and the crust is a deep golden, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped herbs if you wish, or a drizzle of honey (my mom’s touch!).
chicken thighs: I’ve made this recipe many times with chicken breasts instead, and although it works, it just doesn’t have the same juicy flavor. Thighs are better here. I use my dutch oven to make this recipe, and, since it’s a dinner that requires a bit more work than usual, I double the batch. So go ahead and buy that value pack of chicken thighs. The leftovers are delicious.
make ahead: The filling can be made ahead of time, cooled completely, and then stored in the fridge in a covered container for up to 2 days in advance. The pastry rounds can be made earlier in the day (several hours), covered with plastic wrap, and stored in the fridge until ready to use. The whole assembled pie can be made ahead, covered with plastic wrap, and stored in the fridge for up to 6 hours before baking.
accompaniments: I’m often at a loss as to what should be served as an accompaniment with this dish…so I usually end up making this as the only dish, and we just eat a lot of it! I’ve done a roasted carrot soup as a first course before, and a chopped salad as a third course, and that worked well enough. Rice might work as a good accompaniment…especially something fragrant and aromatic, like a rice pilaf or a Persian-style rice. Other ideas: sautéed greens, roasted eggplant, chickpea salad, hummus, etc.
Adapted from Bon Appetit March 2009.