Pheasant b’stilla

Pheasant b’stilla

Mark Hix On Baking
Jason Lowe

If you've been to Morocco you may have come across b’stilla, pronounced and sometimes spelt pastilla. It's traditionally made with pigeon and is a sort of sweet and savoury pie using sugar and almonds which were probably originally used to disguise the birds' gaminess. I normally make it with pheasants as they are plentiful in game season and less fiddly to prepare, though chicken works well too.


Quantity Ingredient
1 pheasant
1 litre chicken stock
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
a good pinch saffron
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
160g butter
1 tablespoon coriander, chopped
20-24 warka or filo pastry sheets, measuring about 18 cm square
5 eggs, hard-boiled and chopped
ground cinnamon, for dusting

For the sugared-almond mixture

Quantity Ingredient
350g ground almonds
5 tablespoons icing sugar
3 tablespoons orange blossom water
or 4 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


  1. Cut the legs from the pheasant, then cut through the leg joint to separate the thigh from the drumstick. Remove the skin from the thighs and cut out the bone with the point of a sharp knife. Cut the breasts away from the carcass and remove the skin. Cut the thigh and breast meat into rough 2 cm chunks and place in a bowl.
  2. Chop the drumsticks and carcass into small pieces using a heavy chopping knife or cleaver. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a large pan, add the chopped bones and gently simmer for 45 minutes. Skim any froth from the surface, strain through a fine-meshed sieve and discard the bones. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  3. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, add the pheasant meat and fry until nicely coloured, stirring occasionally. Add the onion, garlic, saffron, ginger, pepper and salt and stir well. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 30 minutes. Add the icing sugar and 100 g butter and simmer for another 20 minutes. The meat should be tender and the cooking liquid reduced to a few tablespoons. If not, simmer a little longer. Break the meat up a little into the sauce with a spoon, add the coriander and leave to cool.
  4. To assemble the b'stilla, take a straight-sided tart or cake tin with a removable bottom (or a bottomless flan ring on a baking tray) measuring 18–20 cm across by 5– 6 cm deep. Melt the remaining butter and use to brush the bottom and sides. Lay a sheet of filo on the base. Then lay another 10 sheets all round the tin, overlapping the central sheet on the base and going up the sides of the tin so that half of each sheet overhangs the tin’s edge.
  5. Mix the sugared-almond mixture ingredients together in a bowl. Spread half the mix on the base of the pastry, leaving about 1 cm around the edges. Place 2 more sheets of pastry over the almond mixture. Add the chopped eggs with the pheasant mixture and spoon over the pastry. Cover with an additional 2 pastry sheets. Spoon the remaining almond mixture over the pastry then cover with another 3 or 4 pastry sheets. Brush with more butter and fold the overhanging sides up and towards the middle before covering with a final pastry sheet. Using your hands, gently press down upon the top to finish.
  6. Bake the b'stilla in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and carefully run a knife around the edge to loosen the sides. Place a serving dish or flat plate upside down over the tin, carefully invert the b'stilla onto the plate and slide it onto a baking tray. Brush all over with melted butter, return to the oven and cook for a further 15 minutes until golden, turning the oven down or covering with foil if it looks as though it is colouring too rapidly.
  7. Remove the b'stilla from the oven and leave to cool a little. Using a fish slice, carefully transfer to a serving dish. Cut some long strips of paper about 1 cm wide. Dust the top with icing sugar before laying over the paper strips a couple of centimetres apart. Dredge with the cinnamon before removing the strips to create a lattice pattern. Serve.
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