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Jane-Anne Hobbs’s Moroccan-spiced chicken pie

A humble chicken pie with a twist. Recipe book author and Scrumptious blogger Jane-Anne Hobbs says, "I'm smitten by the particular fragrance of Moroccan spicing, and in this phyllo-pastry-topped pie I've used some of the flavours you might find in a chicken tagine. The combination of cinnamon and preserved lemon makes my tongue tie itself in happy knots."

Preparation time: 2 hours

Cooking time: 1 hour

Ingredients

12 skinless deboned chicken breasts
1 cup (250ml) plain yoghurt
Juice of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons (10ml) finely grated lemon zest
2 peeled and crushed cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons (20ml) ground cumin
1 teaspoon (5ml) chilli powder
pinch of saffron
5 sheets fresh defrosted phyllo pastry
for brushing: melted butter
for dusting: ground cinnamon
2 peeled and finely chopped onions
2 tablespoons (30 ml) sunflower oil
1 8cm long cinnamon stick
8 large ripe (or 2 tins) tomatoes
80 ml ground almonds
2 teaspoons (10 ml) ground ginger
2 teaspoons (10 ml) ground coriander
3 teaspoons (15 ml) mild paprika
3 peeled and crushed garlic cloves
Salt and black pepper
75 g cold cubed butter
24 pitted green olives
3 tablespoons (45 ml) preserved , finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons lemon zest) lemon peel
1/2 cup (125 ml) chopped coriander leaves
1/2 cup (125 ml) chopped parsley

Method

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. (This is best with ripe, fresh tomatoes, but you could use an equal quantity of whole tinned ones.) Process at high speed until you have a pale pink, mushy liquid. 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.

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 (to enrich it and give it a gloss) 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).

Heat the oven to 180ºC.

Unroll the phyllo pastry and select five sheets. Place one sheet on a piece of greaseproof paper or a clean tea towel and cover the remaining sheets with a damp cloth. Brush the sheet with melted butter, place another sheet on top, and brush again with butter. 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. Brush melted butter over the top of the pie and dust with a little ground cinnamon.

(If you’re making individual pies, cut circles of the layered pastry for your pie dishes and tuck them in using the same method.)

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.

Recipe courtesy of Jane-Anne Hobbs of Scrumptious.  

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