It Goes By Many Names…

Of course, but that’s at just a cursory glance.  Certainly, this journal has covered savory pies before, Steak and Ale Pie a few weeks ago, and starting late last year with Williamsburg’s chicken version.  While b’steeya, this week’s Moroccan entry, also is a poultry dish, things head in a completely different, unique direction this evening.

To begin, there’s the crust.  We’re familiar with most pot pies’ flaky covering, but phyllo dough enrobes b’steeya.  Traditionally, the pies are wrapped in warka, a North African dough even finer than the close-by Mediterranean phyllo, but the latter is much better suited to the home cook.  The idea is similar, and phyllo gets things off to a crunchy, gossamer start.  Traces of confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon emphasizes this delicacy.

Once inside, the intrigue only mounts.  When b’steeya is offered in its native Morocco, pigeon is the most common lead, though far from the only option.  Another choice is Cornish hen, which is the version pictured above.  Pigeon is (barely) attainable in this part of the world, and it’s an obscure, expensive ingredient.

Hen is an ideal choice, not only because it’s widely available and is moderately priced, but it provides flavors a bit – just a touch – more pronounced than chicken’s.  Hen works so well with the other tastes lurking just beneath the crust, you know b’steeya was dreamt with small poultry in mind, though any bird you choose will work.

Food and Wine featured b’steeya in its  July 2017 issue, in an article Andrew Zimmern, its roving correspondent, contributed.  Zimmern’s recipe gives the original Moroccan instructions a few minor tweaks, affording the pie accessibility without changing its unique taste.  In turn, a few more adjustments appear below, aligning the dish with personal preferences.   Both adhere closely enough to the original, that this b’steeya is still b’steeya, no matter whether you enjoy it in Marrakesh, or a bit closer to home.

Yes, this is another meat pie, the third in six months,  but this really is something altogether new.  Naturally, things are done differently in North Africa than they are in Virginia.  Even when ingredients overlap, they’re handled in their own manner, giving each a unique character.  Then, when new elements are added…  Just try the recipe that follows, and you’ll see!



  • One 2 and 1/2 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 4 dried red chiles
  • 4-inch piece of turmeric, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
  • 1 5-pound duck, cut into pieces (*1)
  • 3 small onions, minced (*2)
  • 10 garlic cloves, smashed
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 cup tawny port wine
  • 5 cups chicken broth (*3)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 cup sliced almonds (*4)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, mixed with 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup dried currants (*5)
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon saffron
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 7 frozen phyllo sheets, thawed
  • confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Put the cinnamon stick, anise pods, chiles, turmeric, cloves, mustard seeds and allspice berries (i.e., the first seven items above) in a 7-inch piece of cheesecloth.  Tie the bundle closed with some culinary string.

In a large pot, cook the poultry, skin-side down at first, for about 20 minutes, until it just begins to brown.  Remove to a separate plate (poultry is largely uncooked at this point).  Pour off all but two tablespoon of the fat that remains.

In the remaining fat, add all the garlic and 1 cup of the onions and season with salt and pepper.  Sautee until the onion begin to soften, about five minutes.  Add the wine and cook until it’s reduced by half, about four minutes.

Add the broth, poultry and spice bundle and cover, cooking for 40 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the poultry to a separate plate to cool.  Continue cooking the broth, uncovered, until it’s reduced by half, about 15 minutes.  Carefully strain the broth mixture through mesh, until you have 1 cup of broth.  Set this aside and discard the remaining broth, etc.

Once the poultry is cooled, shred the meat and discard the bones and skin.

In a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter along with the brown sugar.  Stir in the almonds, 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon-sugar mixture and the cayenne pepper.  Once the almonds are coated, about a minute, remove to a separate bowl.

Meanwhile, in the now-empty pot, melt two more tablespoons of butter, then add the rest of the onions.  Stir the onions occasionally until they caramelize, about 15 minutes.  Stir in the almond mixture, currants, coriander, nutmeg, saffron, shredded poultry and eggs.  Slowly add the 1 cup of broth you reserved.  Stir constantly for about five minutes, until the eggs set and the mixture is moist.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Melt the rest of the butter in a small saucepan.  Brush a 10-ince pie plate with a little of the melted butter.  Lay in the phyllo dough sheets, one at a time, so that the layers adhere to the pie plate and go past the edge by two inches or so. After each dough layer, brush on a little of the melted butter and rotate the plate slightly, so that, in the end, the phyllo sheets cover the plate’s circumference.

Sprinkle another tablespoon of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the pie bottom, then put in the meat mixture.  sprinkle the meat with the remaining cinnamon-sugar mix.  Fold the overhanging phyllo over the filling, then brush it with a little melted butter.

Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until golden and crisp.  Let cool for 10 minutes, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and serve.


1 – Zimmern’s recipe uses duck, while I selected Cornish hens.  Three hens are sufficient.  While neither is the original pigeon, hens are cheaper, healthier and, in my opinion, better than duck.

2 – Naturally, I used shallots.  Five of them are more or less equal the three onions specified.

3 – Use homemade, if it’s available.  I substituted turkey stock because, A) it was in my freezer and B) turkey stock is little more “wild” than is chicken stock, getting us a bit closer to the pigeon in the primary Moroccan recipe.

4 – Not a substitution, but a note.  Namely, these sliced almonds are awesome!  The brown sugar and cayenne do something that elevates the almonds.  Of course, the butter doesn’t hurt, either.  Not exactly low-fat, but the almonds are a definite future (if very occasional) indulgence.

5 – I don’t particularly care for dried currants.  While they’re more palatable than raisins, that’s not saying much, is it?  In this case, I substituted dried cranberries.


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