Rules, especially arbitrary, self-imposed ones, are made to be broken. I am flouting a founding principle of the blog today in choosing to share this recipe, because we’ve only eaten it once, two months ago, and it therefore does not qualify – by any stretch of the imagination – as an established family favourite. I’m quite sure it will be up there before long, though, and encourage you to get making it because it really is ‘a wow of a pie’, as its creator Sami Tamimi (in his wonderful book Falastin) describes it. The list of ingredients is long and the method is protracted but I promise it’s worth the effort.
750g chicken thighs, skinless and boneless
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
¾ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground turmeric
¾ ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp ground cloves
90ml olive oil, plus extra for greasing
2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 baking potatoes (450g), unpeeled and cut into ½cm-thick rounds
45g unsalted butter
1 onion, thinly sliced (150g)
200ml chicken stock
5g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
5g coriander leaves, roughly chopped
8 sheets (30 x 38cm) of good-quality filo pastry (170g)
1 tsp nigella seeds
¾ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes or ⅟₃ tsp regular chilli flakes
Salt and black pepper
80g Greek-style yoghurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp lemon juice
The recipe in Falastin specifies a 23cm springform cake tin but I suspect that any oven-proof dish – and not necessarily a round one – would be fine.
Put the chicken into a large bowl with the garlic, ginger, ground spices, 1 tbsp of oil, the vinegar, 1 tsp salt and a generous grind of pepper. Mix to combine, then leave to marinate for at least half an hour, or overnight in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 180 fan.
Mix the potatoes with 1½ tbsp oil, ¾ tsp salt and a good grind of pepper. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking tray and spread out so that they don’t overlap. Bake for 20 minutes, then increase the oven temperature to 220 fan. Remove the tray from the oven, flip over each potato slice, then return to the oven for another 10 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 180 fan again, or turn it off for now and preheat again later, before you bake the pie.
Put 15g butter and 1½ tbsp oil into a large sauté pan and place on a medium-high heat Once hot, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally , until softened. Add the chicken and cook for about 10 minutes, until lightly brown, then add the stock, ¼ tsp salt and a good grind of pepper. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat to medium. Simmer gently for 25 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through. Increase the heat to medium-high and continue to cook for about 8 minutes, or until the liquid has thickened and reduced to about 4 tbsp. Remove from the heat and leave to cook for about 10 minutes, then use two forks to shred the chicken into large chunks. Sitr in the herbs and set aside.
To make the tahini sauce, put the tahini, yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice, ⅛ tsp salt and 2 tbsp water into a bowl. Whisk together until smooth, then set aside.
Melt the remaining 30g butter and combine with the remaining 2 tbsp oil. Line the base of a 23cm springform cake tin with baking parchment and lightly grease the sides with some of the butter mixture. Lay a sheet of filo out on a clean work surface and brush with the butter. Transfer this to the tin so that the base is covered and the filo rises up and over the tin’s sides. Repeat with the next sheet of filo, brushing it first with butter, then arranging it in the tin, rotating it slightly so that the excess hangs at a different angle. Continue in this fashion, brushing each piece generously as you go, until you have used up 6 pieces of filo in total and tha base and sides are all covered.
Next, add the potato slices, overlapping slightly, so that the base of the pie is completely covered. Top with the chicken mixture and gently push down to even out. Lastly, spoon over the tahini sauce, spreading it gently to coat the chicken layer. Brush a piece of filo with butter and fold it in half horizontally, like a book. Place this over the tahini layer, tucking in the filo around the filling. Brush the top with the butter mixture, then repeat with the last piece of filo, angling it to cover any exposed areas. Now fold over the overhang, crinkling up the filo to create a nice ‘crumpled’ effect on the top. Brush the top with the remaining butter, sprinkle with the nigella seeds, place on a tray and bake at 180 fan for 60 minutes, or until deeply golden.
Leave to cool for about 15 minutes before removing from the tin. Sprinkle with the chilli flakes and serve with a crisp green salad.