Bisteeya is a Moroccan pie traditionally made with braised pigeon, almonds, warm spices, herbs, and eggs. Instead of slowly braising whole cuts of poultry, here I make it with quickly seared ground chicken. By developing dark brown color on the ground chicken, I’m able to mimic the deep flavors of a long-cooked braise in a snap. For the best color, spread the ground chicken out on the skillet and walk away (well, not literally). By leaving it put, the chicken has a chance to dry out and go to brown town on one side, while the opposite side stays moist. This is how I get the best color and texture with any ground meat. If you’ve never used phyllo, this recipe is a good place to start. We’re simply layering the phyllo and folding it over the filling. There’s no complicated scrunching or rolling, and with only a few sheets, if you move quickly, there’s little risk of the pastry drying out. Don’t fret if any sheets tear. With all the layers, the pie can withstand a few ripped sheets.

Serves 4

Active: 30 minutes | Total: 2 hours

TST_start here Book Cover Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook: A Cookbook Sohla El-Waylly


For the filling:

  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil or clarified butter, plus more if needed

  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds

  • 1 pound (450 grams) ground chicken

  • 1 teaspoon plus a big pinch of Diamond Crystal kosher salt, plus more to taste

  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated

  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

  • 1/4 cup golden raisins

  • 1 lemon

  • 1/3 cup lightly packed fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, finely chopped

For assembly:

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  • eight 14 × 18-inch frozen phyllo sheets (see Note), thawed

  • powdered sugar

  • ground cinnamon

1. Make the filling: In a medium skillet, combine the oil and almonds and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the nuts are golden brown and aromatic, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and use a slotted spoon to scoop the nuts into a large bowl, leaving the fat in the skillet.

2. Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add the ground chicken and use a stiff silicone spatula to break it up and spread it out into one layer. Sprinkle with the 1 teaspoon kosher salt and cook undisturbed until browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Break up the chicken and cook, tossing frequently, until no pink remains, 5 to 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to the bowl with the nuts.

3. If the skillet looks dry, add more oil. Return to medium heat and add the onion, garlic, ginger, and a big pinch of kosher salt. Cook, stirring frequently and scraping up any browned bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan, until wilted, translucent, and browned along the edges, 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Add the turmeric, cinnamon, pepper, and raisins and cook, stirring frequently, until the spices are aromatic and the raisins plump, about 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons water and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Scrape the mixture into the large bowl.

5. Finely grate half the zest of the lemon into the bowl, add the parsley, and toss until everything is evenly combined. Taste and add lemon juice and more salt, pepper, and zest as needed. Set aside to cool slightly, about 30 minutes. (You can refrigerate the filling for up to 2 days.)

6. Assembly: Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat to 350°F (177°C). Have the melted butter and pastry brush handy. 

7. Stack the phyllo on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, trim and discard 4 inches of the phyllo dough, leaving you with a 14- inch square. Cover with a slightly damp towel. (Wrap up and put away any remaining phyllo immediately.) 

8. Transfer one sheet of phyllo to the prepared sheet pan and evenly brush with butter. Continue layering on all the phyllo, brushing each with butter, and ending with a layer of butter.

9. Place the chicken mixture in the center of the square of stacked phyllo. Using an offset spatula, spread it into a flat, 6- inch circle. Starting with a corner, fold the edges of the phyllo up and over the filling, pleating the dough as you go. All the filling should be covered by the dough. Brush the top with the remaining butter.

10. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 45 to 50 minutes. Rest for at least 15 minutes, then serve warm or at room temperature. Dust with powdered sugar and cinnamon. To serve, use a sharp serrated knife to cut into wedges. 

Note: Phyllo sheets come in various dimensions. If you can’t find the size I’m using, don’t fret. You ultimately want a 14- inch square of phyllo. If your sheets are larger, trim them to fit. If your sheets are smaller, use 12 sheets, staggering each as you lay them, so you end up with a wider square. The edges will be thinner than the middle, but once folded up and over the filling, you won’t notice it at all.

Credit line: From Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook © 2023 by Sohla El-Waylly. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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