Moroccan seafood bastilla/Pastilla: A posh Moroccan starter

Bastilla/Bestilla or Pastilla is as signature of Moroccan cooking. The most traditional remains the pigeons or chicken bestilla which comes mostly in a version from Fez and another one from Tetouan. The other old recipe of Bestilla is made of almonds all the way through and it is from Rabat.

In the last 40 years or so, other Bestillas made it to our culinary repertoire only to enrich it and to confirm that Moroccan cooking has always been on constant evolution while keeping the recipes of the past still alive.


As much as the previously mentioned bestillas have defined recipes one has to stick to, the seafood or fish bestilla is exactly the opposite. It's done in different ways from a household to another and people really use what they can get from the fishmonger.

As an example, some like to poach the fish, some like to fry it, some bake it and some pan-fry it. Some like it loaded with seafood when others can't afford it and rather fill it with rice vermicelli.

Some basics are still to be observed and I'll explain them in the recipe I'm about to post today, but when it comes to the choice of fish, one can be free..

However, whichever choice you are making, a seafood bastilla is a balance between these flavours and textures:
  • Soft from the inside and crispy for the outside,
  • It should have the taste of the sea with a punch: slightly hot, acidic and zingy,
  • Never soggy,
  • Filling without being heavy, it's served as a starter so people shouldn't feel full at the beginning of the meal.

If you think that making a big pie-style is not your thing, shape it into mini-bestillas, into rolls (sbiaates) or triangles (briouates). You can serve it rectangular as well.



In our family, our bestilla never take many sheets of ouarka/warqa (use a very good phyllo as a substitute). We like to keep a delicate balance of textures and we use just about enough to wrap this must-try Moroccan pie.

The time of cooking depend on the thickness of the bestilla as well as the size, so mine will be as an indication only.

The seafood and fish quantities are also a matter of choice. Well loaded bestillas are usually served in important family events as they tend to come out quite expensive due to the price of the seafood used. So there too is a matter of possibilities and availability.

In Morocco, when the seafood is cheaper in some seasons, we buy a few kilos, peel and clean what needs to be cleaned and we freeze them uncooked. It can be handy for such recipes.



You can make a seafood bestilla ahead of time and freeze it, which makes it a perfect dish for your important events when you want to enjoy your time with your guests.



Ingredients
Serve 10
Prep: 1 h - Baking: 35 - 40 min 

For the filling

  • 700 g of white fish (cod, whiting..), whole or into chunky bits
  • 700 g shrimp or prawns, raw and peeled
  • 500 g squid or calamari, cut into small cubes
  • 1 1/2 cup of fresh coriander and parsley, finely chopped
  • 350 g of white mushrooms, sliced (you could use other mushrooms)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely grated 
  • 250 g of fine rice vermicelli noodles
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 1 tbsp of paprika
  • 5 tbsps of soy sauce 
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp of harissa or chili paste (to taste)
  • 3 tbsps of olive oil
  • 1 preserved lemon, chopped into small bits, discard seeds
  • 1/2 cup of green olives, pitted and chopped 
  • Carrots and cornichon pickles/gherkins, chopped (optional)
  • 4 tbsps of butter
  • 4 tbsps of lemon juice
  • 200 g of grated cheese (such as Edam)

For wrapping and finishing

  • 100 g of butter, melted
  • About 7-8 large sheets of warka/ouarka sheets (use phyllo or equivalent)
  • 2 egg yolks ( 1 for egg wash and one for gluing the end of the sheets)

Preparation

Prepare the filling in steps

Chermoula: mix herbs, spices, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tbsps of olive oil and 2 tbsps of lemon juice. Use a pestle and mortar or a blender to get a paste.

Vermicelli: Drop the vermicelli in boiling water and keep it for 4 min. Drain and set aside to cool. Use a knife of scissors to cut it into no more than 5 cm long bits. Mix with a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce. Ideally, when you peel your own shrimps, you could use their shell and boil it in water. The same water will be used to cook the vermicelli, which adds more seafood depth to them.

White fish: Smear the fish with chermoula, make incisions and fill them with the paste. Place some inside the fish as well. You could also use chunky bits of white fish or thick filets. Just marinate them and pan-fry them. Set aside to cool. If you are using a fish with skin on, discard it and make sure no bone is left inside.

Calamari and mushroomsauté these two in olive oil. Add a grated clove of garlic, a tablespoon of chermoula. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Shrimp/Prawnsauté in butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you are using big prawns, make sure you chop them or cut them into small pieces.

Mix all ingredients (see ingredients list as well) with your hands except the cheese and the white fish. Use a colander to make sure there is no excess liquid in the mix.

Set aside for a couple of hours so the flavours "talk to each others".

Line up all the mixes and front of you and get ready to shape the bastilla.


How to shape bastilla/Pastilla

It's always a good idea to use a round baking tray with high edges to help shaping the bastilla properly. Even if you decide to shape it square or rectangle, the same logic applies.

Grease the baking tray, overlap a few ouarka/warka sheets and drizzle them with melted clarified butter. These leaves must have half to third outside the tray, for now.

Place another ouarka sheet in the centre.

Spread the vermicelli mix, followed by the seafood mix, the flaked fish mix and finally the grated cheese. Drizzle some clarified butter all around.

Bring the edges of ouarka left outside the baking tray in the very beginning and cover the filling in a circular way.

Cover the pie with a large sheet of ouarka and try to tuck it in around the edges. Drizzle or brush with clarified butter

Flip the bastilla in a similar baking tray or just a round tray for now. Cover the bottom which as become a top with another large sheet of ouarka. Smear the edges from inside with egg yolk and tuck them around the edges. Flip the bastilla back to the baking tray. Brush with clarified butter.

If you choose to freeze it at this stage, you don't need to egg wash it. If you choose to bake it the same day, then you will need to do so.


Layering and wrapping a traditional Moroccan bastilla/pastilla

In small mini-bastillas, it's always helpful to use a recipient or a kitchen ring to help shaping it right.

Mini-bestillas in the making. They will be frozen after this (unbaked)

Bake and serve

Preheat the oven 180 degrees. Bake until golden from the top but also the bottom of the bestilla (VERY IMPORTANT). The time varies based on the thickness, the size of the bestilla and the size of the oven. However, a large one with 4 cm thickness can take approx 35 min in a large oven.



Decorate with unshelled prawns, pan-fried or poached, or with grated cheese, chopped herbs or lemon slices..

A smart way to cut bestilla is to separate the centre from the rest then cut it
 pieces all around first and serve as you go

Serve hot to your guests but you can still eat it at room temperature (never serve it to guests like that though).



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