Ask Peter: Making bastilla with rose water
Can I use rosewater instead of orange water in Moroccan bastilla? Helen
Well you can but it’ll be quite a different result. As different as using a perfume like Jo Malone’s Velvet Rose & Oud, compared to Acqua di Parma’s Arancia di Capri. One is rose-heavy, and rather grandmother-ish (in the best way). The other refreshing, zingy and more like a speeding Audrey Hepburn at the wheels of a vintage Ferrari along the Amalfi Coast. Perhaps I’m getting carried away but you get the drift, I hope.
Both rosewater and orange blossom (or orange flower) water are made from the flowers of the plants. Orange blossom water isn’t made from the fruit. Because of this there are no refreshing attributes to the water, which orange peel and juice would offer, but it does make you feel like putting a dab behind your ears — as I’ve been known to do. Likewise rosewater reminds me of my Gran, much the same as anything lavender does. In confectionery I can see the purpose of rosewater, but in savoury food I would suggest it’s best avoided. It’s just too floral for me — but by all means give it a go, using it frugally.
As for the bastilla, which is also known by various names including pastilla, bisteeya and b’stilla, there are numerous ways to make it. Traditionally it’s a crispy pie made by enveloping slowly cooked pigeon meat simmered with cinnamon and spices, almonds, and a sort of scrambled egg mix, in buttered warka dough which is then baked until golden and crisp. It’s sprinkled with caster sugar or icing sugar before being served. On paper it sounds a little odd — sweet pigeon pie — but a warm pastilla is a thing of much delight. Some recipes call for orange blossom water but many don’t, so it’s a moot point as to whether it’s needed in the first place. I think it’s quite good and adds another flavour dimension to the finished pie. Warka dough is more like brik pastry (round and pliable) than filo which is brittle and dry, but filo is more easily sourced and works very well.
Pigeons are the traditional meat used, but that’s because they would have been more plentiful in the wild in Morocco than chickens. Although you can, of course, make this from chicken (use legs for more robust flavour and texture when the meat is shredded). Alternatively you could use duck or rabbit legs (the latter work surprisingly well) and just adjust the cooking time. Brown the legs first in a little oil and remove from the pan. Caramelise a few sliced onions with spices such as saffron, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom then return the legs on the bone to the pan. Cover with water and poach gently until cooked and tender. Remove the meat and reduce the stock to barely half a cup before whisking in eggs. It’s at this point, once the mixture has cooked a little, that you add the orange blossom water — don’t boil it as the aroma will disappear. The meat is taken off the bone and shredded then loosely folded back into the mixture with chopped toasted almonds and this is the filling for your "pie", although some people like to layer the eggy part and the meaty part. If you do make this using rosewater please do let us know how you got on!