Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Morrocan-Style Chicken Phyllo Rolls with Spiced Tomato Sauce

I saw this recipe over on Love and Olive Oil a couple months ago, put it in my bookmarks, and then completely forgot about it. Then last week I was in a big funk and couldn't come up with anything to cook. I stared into my freezer for what seemed like hours and then spotted some phyllo. Ding ding ding! I had everything on hand for this recipe except turmeric (which ended up costing me almost $8! Ridiculous.) so onto the meal plan it went.

The recipe seemed pretty simple to me. I mean, it's just chicken with a bunch of spiced rolled in phyllo. Easy enough, right? Wrong. It took me HOURS. And then I made the mistake of tasting the chicken mixture before I rolled it up and almost cried. It was not good at all. I kept going with it though because I had to have something ready for the husband when he walked through the door.

So Spencer walked in and I immediately warned him that dinner was going to suck and he might as well turn around and hit McDonald's. But he tried a phyllo roll. And then another. And then 8 more. Let me tell you, these things are addictive. They were delicious! The two of us went through almost all of them over the course of the night. The spiced tomato sauce that was served with them was good too but I think the rolls are best alone.

Moroccan-Style Chicken Phyllo Rolls

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Scant teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/4 lb chicken thighs (with skin and bones)
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
8 (17- by 12-inch) phyllo sheets, thawed if frozen
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds

Make filling:
Cook onion in oil along with salt, cumin, ginger, turmeric, pepper, and coriander in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chicken, broth, water, and cinnamon stick and simmer, covered, turning chicken over once, until meat is very tender, about 45 minutes total. Transfer chicken with tongs to a bowl, reserving cooking liquid.

When cool enough to handle, shred chicken, discarding skin and bones, and transfer to a large bowl. Transfer cooking liquid to a 2-cup glass measure (do not clean saucepan) and let stand 1 minute, then skim off fat and discard cinnamon stick. Return liquid to saucepan and simmer over moderately high heat, uncovered, until reduced to about 1/4 cup (liquid will look like a glaze in bottom of pan), about 8 minutes, then stir into shredded chicken along with almonds.

Reserve 2 tablespoons beaten egg in a cup for egg wash. Lightly season remaining egg with salt and pepper, then cook in 1/2 tablespoon butter in an 8- to 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, stirring, until just set but still slightly soft. Stir scrambled egg into filling.

Make rolls:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 450°F.

Put 1 phyllo sheet on a work surface, keeping remaining phyllo covered with overlapping sheets of plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel, and brush generously with some melted butter. Evenly sift 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon over buttered phyllo using a fine-mesh sieve, then top with another phyllo sheet and generously brush with butter.

Halve buttered phyllo stack crosswise, then arrange 1 half with a long side nearest you. Spread 1/4 cup chicken filling in a narrow strip along edge nearest you, then roll up filling tightly in phyllo, leaving ends open. Transfer roll, seam side down, to a cutting board set inside a baking pan (to help contain mustard seeds when sprinkling). Make another roll with remaining half stack. Make 6 more rolls in same manner, transferring to cutting board.

Lightly brush top of rolls with egg wash and immediately sprinkle with mustard seeds, pressing lightly on seeds to help adhere. Cut each roll crosswise into 4 pieces and arrange pieces 1 inch apart on 2 baking sheets. Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until phyllo is golden brown, about 12 minutes total.

Transfer rolls to a rack to cool slightly.

Cooks' notes:
• Rolls can be assembled (but not coated or cut) 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.
• Rolls can be assembled and cut (but not coated or baked) 2 weeks ahead and frozen, wrapped well in plastic wrap. Coat frozen rolls, then bake (do not thaw) in a preheated 350°F oven about 20 minutes.

Spiced Tomato Sauce

1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of ground cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 (14 1/2- to 15-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice, coarsely chopped (reserving juice)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar

Cook onion, garlic, ginger, and spices in oil in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, until onion is softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in vinegar and simmer over moderately low heat 1 minute. Add tomatoes (with juice) and brown sugar, then increase heat to moderate and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Purée sauce in a blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Serve at room temperature.

Cooks' note:
Sauce can be made 3 days ahead and cooled completely, then chilled, covered.

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