Pigeons bastilla/Pastilla/B’steela is a dish that was born in the Palaces of Fez, a few centuries ago, which makes of it a pure Fassi dish. It has a special balance of flavours and textures that is trully remarkable.
In Fez, bastilla is a must during wedding ceremonies and big happy gatherings. Although we call a caterer for a few things and for the service, the bastillas are a family deal, it’s either prepared by the women of the family or by a Tabbakha (an old cook) the family thouroughly know. It’s a matter of honour to serve a good well filled and well balanced bastilla.
So, was pigeon bastilla a National dish for big family events as the Oxford Companion of food mentions it? No, for centuries, it was not! But it has become one in the last decades due to the movement of people, television and cooking program and more recently with cookbooks and internet. It has even become an iconic dish representing Moroccan Cuisine along with couscous, tagines and Harira.
Pigeons bastilla was originally made with pigeons (bones in) for the rich and with giblets for the less rich. Nowadays, not only chicken replaced pigeons but people got creative with the filling as well as the shaping: there are many versions such as seafood, liver, vegetarian options, sweet versions with fruits…etc.
However, the pigeon or chicken bastilla has some rules just like any speciality dish which should not be fiddled with, otherwise, one will end up with another dish which you might as well rename.
|Mini b’stila bites|
Pastilla, although bearing a Spanish-like name and seems to have been inspired by the Andalucian Pastel di Pollo. There is another story that refers to a layering inspired by Persians and a filling inspired by Berbers, then the whole mix got perfected in the Royal Palaces of Fez which makes this version purely Fassi.
Andalucia was under Muslim (Arabs and Moors) ruling for 800 years and when its Muslims and Jews got kicked out from their lands due to their religions, some of them came to Morocco and settled in Tetouan, Fes, Safi, Marrakesh and Rabat in masses. Many other recipes are shared in both countries until now.
If you have problems making round shaped Bastillas, just use small tart tins and you will be fine.. Here is a video tutorial to help you shaping the small bastillas..I seriously thank this Chef who didn’t vandalise the recipe (some differences but acceptable).
This recipe is for a big family-size B’steela /Pastilla or many small portions depending on the size.
The pigeons are the original birds used in this recipe and back in the days, they were left bones in. B’steela was never cut so people used to pinch bits with their 3 fingers, they would suck the bone as well and then discard it..
There isn’t much to eat in a pigeon and it’s has become so expensive. Besides, you have to find young ones so it’s no easy task but certainly the most gourmet bastilla is the original version. Chicken is easier to work with and it has more meat to enjoy. Do not use chicken breasts only as they won’t bring any flavour. Besides, meat with bones is juicier and better.
|Homemade bastillas, ready to go to a Public oven for baking (for a wedding).|
– 8 pigeons depending on their weight (or just the equivalent in chicken with bones)
– 2 tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp of smen (or ghee) + 2 tbsps vegetable oil
– 500 g yellow or white onions, chopped
– 1 tbsp of ginger powder
– A good pinch of saffron threads
– 1 tsp of turmeric
– A good pinch of saffron threads
– 1/2 tsp of white and black pepper
– Salt to taste
-1 heaped cup of finelly chopped coriander and parsley
– 1 cinnamon stick of 10 cm
– 2 tbps of honey or sugar
– Enough water to cover the ingredients to 2/3.
In a saucepan, combine all ingredients and let simmer for about 45 minutes or until pigeons are tender. Set aside to cool.
Pull the pigeon’s flesh and chop the big “chunks” if any into small pieces and put them back in the sauce, stir until the liquid is reduced, add the honey and stir well.
– Remaining sauce from the pigeons (Once drained)
Scramble the eggs on a low hear by stirring with a spatula. Drain.
Almonds: 3rd layer/Filling, can be done 1 day ahead
– 500 g blanched fried almonds (coarsely chopped or in paste) or just almond flakes
– Sugar or Honey to taste (let’s say 30% or almond’s weight)
– 1 tbsp of ground cinnamon
– 1 tbsp of Orange blossom water (optional)
I have a version of praline version that I added and it turned out stunning!
– 1 egg yolk for egg wash + 1 egg for gluing the brik/ouarka layers
In a baking tin generously buttered, overlap 3 or 4 sheets representing the base (as if you are alternating rose petals in a flower), making sure to overlap and glue them with 1 beaten egg. Brush with clarified butter.
Layering logic 1, most common and most “Fassi”
Start with the layer of hard scrambled eggs first, followed by a layer of chicken or pigeons and finish off with a layer of almonds.
Layering logic 2
Put a layer of pigeons mixture, then a layer of scrambled egg, then a layer of crushed almonds.
Place one sheet in the centre and repeat although nowadays they’re mostly skipping this step.
Layer logic 3: the most refined
Almonds, besides the pigeons, are the other stars of the show, so fine Chefs and fine cooks layer them first but also finish off with another layer. In between, you will find the layer of scrambled egg and then the layer of pigeons.
Close up the bastilla by bringing the sheets overlapped previously to the middle, one by one. Brush again with butter.
Before serving, decorate the pastilla/B’steela with icing sugar, cinnamon powder and some chopped fried almonds/flaky almonds eventually.
1- There are interesting bastillas in Rabat and Tetouan. Rabat people have an old recipe where the filling is a sort of almond mixture which is all sweet while Tetouan’s bastilla is a bit like Fassi one but more on the lemony side.
2- If you don’t think the bastilla shaping is a thing you can master, make bastilla rolls or triangles, use muffin or tart tins to make mini pies.