There's a slightly unusual method here: the chicken breasts are first marinated, Indian-style, in tenderising yoghurt, and then tipped into an aromatic tomato gravy, where they poach gently over a very low heat. I've done this to produce soft and succulent chicken pieces: strips of chicken breast turn into rubbery curls if they're cooked too fiercely. And I've added some of the spices to the chicken and marinade, not to the gravy, so that they endure very little cooking time and thus surge eagerly to the front of the flavour queue.
This is best with ripe, fresh tomatoes, but you could use an equal quantity of whole tinned ones. You can peel the tomatoes if you like, but I don't bother. If you don't have a food processor, cut the tomatoes in half, press the cut side of the tomato against the coarse teeth of a grater and grate vigorously until the skin flattens out under your palm.
If you leave out the chunk of butter added to the sauce at the end (to enrich it and give it a gloss) this is a low-fat dish. If you add the butter, it's not. (Add the butter, I say!)
Preserved lemons are available from good delicatessans. If you can't find them, add an extra two teaspoons of lemon zest to the recipe. Most supermarkets stock frozen phyllo pastry, but the unfrozen variety (available at Woolworths) is the easiest to work with.
Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Pie
12 skinless, deboned chicken breasts
5 sheets of fresh phyllo pastry
melted butter for brushing
a little ground cinnamon for dusting
For the marinade:
1 cup (250 ml) plain white yoghurt
the juice of 2 lemons
2 tsp (10 ml) finely grated lemon zest
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
4 tsp (20 ml) powdered cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) chilli powder
a pinch of saffron threads
For the sauce:
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 T (30 ml) sunflower oil
one 8-cm stick cinnamon
8 large, ripe tomatoes
80 ml ground almonds
2 tsp (10 ml) ground ginger
2 tsp (10 ml) ground coriander
3 tsp (15 ml) mild paprika
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
salt and freshly milled black pepper
75g cold butter, cubed [optional]
24 green olives, pitted
3 T (45 ml) preserved lemon peel, finely chopped
½ cup (125 ml) chopped fresh coriander (loosely packed)
½ cup (125 ml) chopped fresh parsley (loosely packed)
Cut the chicken into strips as big as your little finger (or into large cubes, if you prefer). Place all the marinade ingredients into a large plastic or glass bowl and mix well. Stir in the chicken strips. Cover and set aside in the fridge for two hours.
Heat the olive oil in a large, shallow pan and add the chopped onion and cinnamon stick. Cook, over a medium flame, until the onions have softened. In the meantime, quarter the tomatoes and put them in a liquidiser or a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process at high speed until you have a pale pink, mushy liquid. Pour this into the pan containing the onions and add the almonds, ginger, coriander, paprika and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook at a fairly brisk bubble for 15 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. To check whether it's ready, draw a wooden spoon across the base of the pan. If the channel created by the spoon closes reluctantly, the sauce is thick enough.
Turn the heat to its lowest setting. Tip the chicken and its marinade into the pan and stir. Cook very gently (the mixture should barely bubble) for 10 or so minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through. Add the butter and toss gently. Stir in the olives, preserved lemon, coriander and parsley, and set aside to cool. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary. (At this point, the mixture can go into the fridge overnight, but add the coriander and parsley only just before you assemble the pie).
Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Unroll the phyllo pastry and remove five sheets. Place a sheet of pastry on a piece of greaseproof paper or a clean tea towel (cover the remaining sheets with a damp cloth) and brush all over with melted butter. Place another sheet on top, and brush with butter again. Continue until you've used up all five sheets.
Grease a rectangular pie dish that's a little smaller than the phyllo pastry. Remove the cinnamon stick from the chicken mixture. Pile the filling into the dish and carefully place the layered phyllo on top. Tuck the excess pastry down along the edges, or crimp it neatly, as shown in the photograph below. Brush melted butter over the top of the pie and dust with a little ground cinnamon
Bake at 180ºC for 20-30 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden. Watch the pie like a hawk: if it looks like it's browning too quickly, loosely cover it with tin foil.
Serve immediately, with a green salad.
Serves 8. Print Friendly