Moorish Chicken Pie with a Twist

Do you ever loathe the thought of having to stop by the grocery store on your way home from work? This was me a couple of days ago. After spending 7 hours in the kitchen at work, the last place I wanted to be was a busy supermarket smelling aromas from the pre-made food bar when I myself already reeked of food. So I nixed the whole idea and told my husband we were having pancakes for dinner (don’t judge, I threw in blueberries for a well-balanced meal). Well, that plan worked for one night, but I knew the next day I had to give in and go grocery shopping.  

To make the trip to the store as painless as possible I went prepared with a menu already in mind for dinner: Moorish Chicken Pie with Zucchini CousCous. I have made this meal many times, and I love the recipe. It comes from the cookbook The New Spanish Table. The author, Anya Von Bremzen, describes it as a peasant dish of Granada with North African influences. The reason I love it is that it’s a quick and simple dish to make on a weeknight, but it looks and tastes like you have spent the better half of the day in the kitchen. I do cheat and use a pre-made rotisserie chicken, but this doesn’t affect the flavor in any way, and guarantees a nice juicy filling. Plus the leftover pulled chicken is always great to have on hand for an even quicker meal.

The foundation of this recipe is to make a chicken tomato stew, and then use it as a filling for a savory pie. I think the added ingredients of raisins, almonds and pine nuts though are what really packs a punch. I love the crunch of the almonds and pine nuts amongst the soft bits of chicken, and the raisins add an unexpected sweetness. So what is the “twist” I speak of? Well, the original recipe uses puff pastry dough to encase the chicken filling, thus making it a pie. This sounds delicious, but those of us that are health conscious know that puff pastry is the devil. It is loaded with butter and fat, but it is impossible to stop eating! In order to lighten up the dish, I have substituted phyllo dough in its place. With phyllo you still have that yummy taste of pastry, but you get the added bonus of that nice golden brown crunchy texture only phyllo can provide (and 12 fewer grams of fat per serving!). Also, the original recipe makes one large pie that can be cut into pieces for serving. I prefer to make smaller individual pies; this works better with the phyllo because the crust stays crisper and the pies cook faster and are easier to serve. But the best thing about this dinner: I was in and out of the kitchen in less than an hour, my husband and I had a delicious mid-week meal, and I made all my co-workers jealous when I brought the leftovers to work for lunch.

  

Moorish Chicken Pie
Adapted from The New Spanish Table by Anya Von Bremzen
Serves 4 (Makes 8 small pies)

1 Onion – sliced thin
1/2 cup Chicken Stock
3 1/2 cups Rotisserie Chicken – torn into pieces
1 TBSP Sweet Paprika
1/2 tsp Cumin
3/4 tsp Ginger
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/8 tsp Cayenne
2 Plum Tomatoes – chopped (canned is fine too)
1/3 cup Dark Raisins
1/4 cup Pine Nuts – lightly toasted
1/4 cup Slivered Almonds – lightly toasted
24 sheets of Phyllo Dough at room temperature – cut into 9″x9″ squares
3 TBSP Butter
3 TBSP Olive Oil

*Serve with Spiced Cous Cous with sautéed Zucchini and Pomegranate seeds

  1. In a medium-sized pot, heat 1 TBSP of oil and saute the onions for about 3 minutes. Turn down the heat, and continue to cook the onions until lightly browned (about 10 minutes). Add chicken stock if the pot starts to become too dry.
  2. Add the torn chicken pieces to the pot along with all the spices – paprika, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne. Salt to taste. Saute for 2 minutes and then add the rest of the chicken stock, the tomatoes, and the raisins. Turn heat to low, cover, and let simmer 15 minutes. Remove lid and continue to cook until most of the liquid is absorbed. The filling should be soft and moist, and not too wet. Remove from heat and let cool until room temperature. You could refrigerate the filling at this point and use when ready.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400F. Stir the pine nuts and almonds into the chicken mixture. Melt the butter in a heatproof container in the microwave, and stir in the remaining olive oil. Starting with one sheet of phyllo, lightly brush it with the butter and olive oil. Place another sheet on top, and lightly brush it as well. Place one more sheet on top and brush it too. You will now have 3 layers of phyllo. Place 1/2 cup of chicken stew in the middle on one side. Fold it like an envelope, brushing the phyllo with butter/oil when needed. Continue this step 7 more times. You should have 8 pies when finished. Place all pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment or on a silicone baking mat.                                                                       
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

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