Put the chicken in a pot in which it will just fit snugly, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Skim, lower the heat to simmer and add a tied bouquet garni made of the herb sprigs, bay leaves and celery stalks. Season with a level dessertspoon of salt and add the whole black peppercorns. Cook gently for 50 minutes.
Remove the chicken and transfer to a chopping board. Remove and discard the bouquet garni and increase the heat to bring to the boil. Skim and leave to bubble, while you cut the meat from the carcass, discarding the skin. Reserve the meat and return the bones to the pot and simmer for another 30 minutes.
Peel and slice the onions thinly. Sauté them in 55 g/2 oz of the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, until they are translucent.
Shake on the flour and stir. Then ladle in 300 ml/½ pt of the strained chicken broth, stirring until this starts to thicken. Beat in the milk in a thin stream, bring to a bubble, then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Halve the chillies, strip out the seeds and cut across into fine strips. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and cut the chicken into bitesized pieces.
Remove the onion sauce from the heat and stir in the grated nutmeg, the chilli shreds and saffron. Stir the chicken pieces into the sauce.
Melt the remaining butter in a small pan. Use it to brush the base and sides of large baking dish, measuring about 38 x 23 x 8 cm/15 x 1 1 x 3 in. Brushing each sheet of filo first with the butter, layer 8 sheets to cover the bottom and sides, with some hanging over the sides.
Pour and spoon the chicken mixture into the baking dish. Cover the top with 8 more sheets of butter-coated filo, folding the side overhangs back on top to finish.
Cut into rectangles for serving.
© 1995 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.