A known dish in the Magreb, particularly Morocco and Algeria, Pastilla (or bastilla) is a savory chicken pie made with crispy, flaky phyllo dough and a tender shredded chicken filling, seasoned with warm North African flavors including Ras El Hanout, ginger, and cinnamon. You can make it in a skillet!
I think of chicken pastilla, also known as bastilla or b’stilla, as an exotic North African version of chicken pot pie. But it’s so much more! This savory pie makes a delicious centerpiece for a special dinner. It's not difficult to make, but it will take a little time. Well worth it, though!
What is pastilla?
Its name comes from the Spanish word for pastry, pastilla (pronounced pas-tee-yah)! Pastilla is a rustic, sweet-and-savory North African chicken pie made of a tender shredded chicken filling and shaved almonds, seasoned with warm spices (including Ras El Hanout), and nestled in layers of flaky phyllo pastry. It tastes just as good as it sounds, and it’s easier to make than most people think!
Pastilla originated in the Magreb and is a speciality of Morocco and Algeria.
About this pastilla recipe
Nowadays it is common to cook pastilla in a large oven-safe skillet and to use shredded chicken and phyllo dough for this savory pie, as I do here. Traditionally, however, pastilla was made with pigeon along with crispy warqa, which literally means “paper,” a thin dough similar in texture to phyllo.
Many recipes call for sugar, but I opted for a few pitted medjool dates in the chicken mixture and a light dusting of powdered sugar at the very end instead.
The star seasoning in this pastilla recipe is Ras El Hanout, a North African blend of spices including cinnamon, turmeric, cloves, allspice, cardamom, ginger, mace, nutmeg, and a touch of cayenne. It's the same bold flavor-maker I use in recipes like my Moroccan Meatballs and Lamb Stew. With that abundance of warm spices, Ras El Hanout is a good shortcut and a sure way to add plenty of flavor to this pie.
Bastilla pie makes a beautiful celebratory meal to share with friends and family, or anytime you feel like serving a delicious savory pie that is also pretty to look at. While not hard to make, its preparation is a bit time-consuming, so I like to make pastilla on a weekend when I have a couple hours to spend.
Ingredients: What you'll need to make chicken pastilla
Moroccan pastilla is composed of two main components: the flaky phyllo pastry (which you can find in the freezer section of your supermarket near the pie crust) and the succulent chicken filling. Here is what you’ll need to make it:
- Boneless, skinless chicken thighs – I like thighs in this recipe because they remain juicy after being cooked and then baked in the pastry. You could use boneless skinless chicken breasts instead – just remember to adjust your cooking time so they don’t dry out.
- Extra virgin olive oil – I used our Hojiblanca Spanish EVOO because of its rich, slightly peppery finish
- Sliced yellow onion and minced garlic – These aromatics add flavor to the chicken pastilla filling
- Pitted medjool dates, chopped – Medjool dates add a hint of decadent caramel flavor and Mediterranean flair
- Toasted sliced almonds – toasted almonds offer some crunch and texture
- Fresh parsley – Fresh parsley is so much more than just a garnish! I love the earthiness it brings to the pastilla filling.
- Eggs – A few eggs add heft and creaminess to the chicken filling, and also help to thicken it
- Phyllo dough - If you aren’t familiar with phyllo dough, it is basically sheets of fragile, paper-thin pastry that you can find in rolls in the freezer section at the grocery store. It can be finicky to work with, but don’t let it intimidate you. By following my simple tips below, you can get perfect results every time!
- Spices for Moroccan bastilla filling – Ras El Hanout, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, red pepper flakes (optional, but adds a pleasant kick), and ground turmeric. While a tiny pinch of saffron threads is usually used to add color to pastilla, I opted to use turmeric instead. It will still lend a beautiful golden color to the chicken filling.
How to make pastilla or bastilla (step by step)
Even though this Moroccan pastilla recipe takes a bit of time to prepare, it is not an overly complicated chicken pie to put together. Follow these steps to make it (printer-friendly recipe below):
- Brown the chicken. After patting the 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs dry, season both sides with kosher salt and black pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons EVOO in a pan over medium-high heat, and sear the chicken on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Cook the chicken. Drizzle more extra virgin olive oil if necessary, and add 1 sliced onion and 2 cloves minced garlic. Season with kosher salt and cook until the onion has softened. Pour in ¾ cup water and all the spices. Once the mixture is boiling, return the chicken to the pan and cook until the chicken is fully cooked. (Cooked chicken will have an internal temperature of 165 degrees F when using a meat thermometer.) The liquid should be reduced by half as well. Remove the chicken from the pan and leave the liquid in the pan – do not discard it.
- Shred the chicken. Carefully shred the chicken into pieces. It will be very hot, so I advise using a fork and knife or two forks. Don’t use your fingers.
- Add the eggs. To the pan of liquid, gently stir in the 3 beaten eggs. The mixture might start looking a bit like scrambled eggs. That’s normal. Add the chicken back to the pan. Stir in the chopped dates, toasted almonds, and fresh parsley, and remove from the heat. Your Moroccan pastilla filling is ready!
- Arrange the phyllo dough in the skillet. Brush the bottom and sides of a 10-inch pie dish or heat-safe skillet with extra virgin olive oil. I used a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. Fold one sheet of phyllo dough vertically (the long way) and brush the top with EVOO. Lay the folded phyllo in the middle of the pan with the ends hanging over either side of the pan. Repeat this step with 7 more sheets of phyllo dough. Don’t forget to fold each one in half and to brush with EVOO! Layer the phyllo sheets so that they overlap. To make it easier, rotate the pan a little each time you add a layer of phyllo to ensure that the phyllo covers the bottom of the pan completely. There should be phyllo pastry hanging slack all around the pan or skillet.
- Add the chicken mixture to the skillet. Spoon the chicken mixture over the layered phyllo pastry. Cover with the last 2 sheets of phyllo, making sure to brush each one with extra virgin olive oil.
Fold the hanging phyllo pieces over to cover. It might not look very neat, but that’s okay. This is a more rustic Moroccan pastilla. Brush the top with extra virgin olive oil.
- Bake the pie. On the center rack of a 375 degrees F heated oven, bake the pie for 15 to 20 minutes or until the phyllo is fully cooked and golden brown. To ensure even color on all sides, rotate the pan a few times while the Moroccan bastilla cooks. Remove and use a sieve to sprinkle some powdered sugar over the top of the pie. Serve immediately.
Tips for working with phyllo and more
- Thaw the phyllo properly overnight. Phyllo is sold frozen, so you’ll need to thaw it in the fridge for 24 hours before you want to use it.
- Bring the phyllo to room temperature. About an hour before using the phyllo pastry, remove it from the fridge and set it on the counter.
- To prevent the phyllo from drying and breaking while you work with it, cover the phyllo sheets with a lightly damp kitchen cloth. The first time you make bastille pie, you may work slowly, so it’s a good idea to lay the phyllo sheets flat on a large tray and cover with a very slightly damp clean towel while you work on one sheet. The towel shouldn’t be too wet, or your phyllo will become wet and doughy, and will not get crisp in the oven. This will reduce the breaking but will not fully prevent it. Don’t worry if some of phyllo breaks as you work, the pie will still taste delicious and look great.
- Use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. If you decide to use a cast-iron skillet instead of a pie dish, make sure the skillet is well-seasoned to prevent the phyllo dough from sticking.
Make ahead option
If you want to work ahead, you can make the chicken filling one day in advance. I wouldn’t recommend baking the whole pie in advance and then reheating, as this will affect the texture. For the full wow effect, you’ll want the chicken pastilla to be crisp and fresh out of the oven.
How to store and reheat leftover Moroccan bastilla
This dish is best enjoyed and finished right away, but leftovers will keep for three to four days in an airtight container in the fridge. To reheat, brush the top of the pastilla lightly with extra virgin olive oil again and place it on a sheet pan in a 375 degrees F-heated oven for a few minutes until warmed through.
Serve this savory chicken pie with
Pastilla is a rich, satisfying meal on its own, but it’s never a bad idea to add some color in the form of roasted vegetables, Moroccan-style carrot salad, or another big salad like my Mediterranean bean salad.
Other phyllo recipes you may like
Pastilla Recipe (Skillet Chicken Pie)
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, halved, and thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 6 medjool dates, pitted, and chopped
- ⅓ cup sliced almonds, toasted
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 10 sheets phyllo dough
- 2 teaspoons Ras El Hanout
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- Pat the chicken dry and season with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides.
- In a large pan, heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear until brown on both sides (about 5 minutes or so). Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside for now.
- In the same pan, add the onion slices and garlic, if needed, add a little more olive oil. Season with a good pinch of kosher salt. Cook over medium heat, tossing regularly until softened.
- Add ¾ cup of water and the spices. Bring to a boil, then return the chicken pack to the pan. Cook over medium-high heat for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked through and the liquid has reduced by ½.
- Carefully remove the chicken from the pan onto a cutting board. Using two forks (or a fork and knife), shred or break the chicken up into small pieces.
- To the pan of liquid, stir in the beaten eggs. Return the chicken to the pan and stir to combine. Stir in the chopped dates, almonds, and parsley. Remove from the heat
- Turn the oven on to 375 degrees F and adjust a rack in the middle.
- Prepare a 10-inch pie dish or heat-safe skillet and brush the bottoms and sides with extra virgin olive oil.
- Take one sheet of phyllo dough and fold it in half vertically (the long way). Brush the top of the folded phyllo with extra virgin olive oil. Now lay the folded phyllo sheet in the middle with the sides hanging on either side of the pan. Repeat with 7 more sheets of the phyllo, making sure each sheet is folded and brushed with oil. Layer the phyllo sheets in the pan so that they overlap, rotating the pan so that the phyllo will cover it on all sides (there should be phyllo slack hanging over on all sides of the pan).
- Spread the chicken mixture over the phyllo. Cover with the remaining 2 sheets of phyllo, making sure to brush each layer with olive oil. Fold the phyllo sides (or slack) over to cove. Brush the top with extra virgin olive oil.
- Bake on the center rack of your heated oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the phyllo is fully cooked and golden brown (rotate the pan occasionally to make sure you get even color on all sides).
- Tips for working with phyllo: Thaw phyllo overnight, allow it to come to room temperature before using it, and cover sheets of phyllo with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying out and breaking.
- Make-ahead option: You can make the chicken filling a day in advance.
- Leftovers and storage: Leftovers will keep for three to four days in an airtight container in the fridge. To reheat, brush the top of the pastilla lightly with extra virgin olive oil again and place it on a sheet pan in a 375 degrees F-heated oven for a few minutes until warmed through.
- Serve pastilla with: While pastilla is a filling meal on its own, you can add some color in the form of roasted vegetables, Moroccan-style carrot salad, or another big salad like my Mediterranean bean salad.
- Visit Our Shop for quality Mediterranean ingredients including extra virgin olive oils and spices, like the Ras El Hanout and turmeric used in this recipe.