Working with Ouarka

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by StCirq on January 17, 2003

Notes taken, we don our aprons and head for our places in the kitchen. We’re making bastilla, a traditional chicken or pigeon pie that is fairly complicated and incorporates techniques used in making other Moroccan dishes such as tagines and couscous. We have four pieces of freshly killed (and, we think, a bit tough) chicken which we sautée in olive oil with a chopped medium purple onion, chopped coriander, pepper, salt, cinnamon, gee (clarified butter), ginger, and saffron. When it’s cooked through, we cover it with water and bring to a boil and add a few chopped cinnamon sticks.

Once the liquid is reduced, we remove the chicken from the heat and begin the next "layer of the pie," which is an egg stuffing. While the chicken cools, we break four eggs into a dish and add them one at a time to the remaining liquid from the chicken. We stir and stir until they have scrambled and become hard and absorbed all the juices. Then we press the remaining juice out of them. Lali checks up on us at every stage and whispers to Karim, who passes on her suggestions to us in French.

While our egg stuffing rests, we debone the chicken and, with scissors, cut it into small pieces. Then we make the third layer of the pie by mixing a bowl of chopped almonds with sugar (Lali likes to use lots and throws more in when I’m not looking, but P and I agree it’s better not so sweet), orange blossom water, and cinnamon.

It’s time to put the pie together. Lali takes out a pile of "ouarka" dough, which looks a bit like phyllo, but is round in shape. She’s having problems with it from the start, and needs to keep using the scissors to cut it into the right size pieces. Some pieces are so thin and unwieldy they simply have to be scrapped. Anyway, we take a sheet of ouarka and place the chopped chicken on it. Lali sprinkles a layer of sugar and cinnamon on that. Then we beat an egg and brush the ouarka with it. Then the egg stuffing goes on, followed by the sugar-cinnamon mix, then another sheet of ouarka and egg wash. Then the almond/sugar/cinnamon mixture and more ouarka and egg wash. Then we top the entire pie with another sheet of ouarka that gets folded around to make a perfect circular pie, more egg wash, and then we sift sugar and cinnamon on the top in a grid pattern. Into the sautée pan they go (you can cook them in the oven, too, but sautéeing them yields a more moist bastilla). A few minutes on one side and a few minutes on the other, and voila! A perfect bastilla--unless of course Lali turns the heat up on yours and it burns slightly on one side, as in the case of mine.

Cooking Workshop at La Maison Arabe

Marrakesh, Morocco

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