What's the first food that comes to your mind when you think of Greek Cuisine? Is it A Greek Salad? A Tzatziki Dip? Or is it Moussaka? In contrary to the other two that are so healthy light and refreshing, Moussaka represents the other part of Greek Cuisine... - the sinful deliciousness! Aka, spiced, saucy, greasy foods you can't say no to...
What Is Moussaka Made Of?
Moussaka is made off a bottom layer of fried potatoes, topped with a layer of fried eggplants, then a layer of spiced ground beef and tomato sauce, and a layer of bechamel cream. Then it's all baked together in the oven to create this delicious, one of a kind baked dish!
Other Versions Of Moussaka
Although that's the classic and most used version of Greek Moussaka, sometimes it is made only with eggplants (you can double the quantity if you want to skip the potatoes). While some other times it is made with the addition of a fried zucchini layer. I must say it's pretty good too.
You can also turn Moussaka into a Vegetarian one, by skipping the ground beef sauce and using a spiced tomato sauce instead, along with a layer of fried zucchini.
Where Do I Begin Making It?
First of all, grab yourself a big pan or baking dish (10 x 15 inch / 25 x 38 cm).
It is best if you start by making the Ground Beef Sauce. It takes about 1 hour to cook so meanwhile, you can prepare the remaining layers. The sauce is more or less like a Greek-style Bolognese sauce with spices like cloves, and allspice.
TIP: - Add 3-4 tablespoons of powdered breadcrumbs into the sauce once it's cooked, and let sit for 30 minutes. This way it will get nice and thick to create the perfect layer. If the sauce is too runny, the oil will climb on top of the bechamel cream on the sides.
Once you have the sauce cooking on the stovetop, you may start with the fried potatoes (the 1st layer). Peel and cut into thin slices lengthwise. Season with salt and pepper. Deep fry them until they get golden and slightly brownish on the edges. Transfer on paper towels to drain excess oil and slightly cool (so you won't burn yourself when touching them). Start laying them in the pan close to each other and press lightly with your hands so they will kind of "stick together".
Then prepare the eggplants. No need to peel those. Just remove the tops and bottoms, and cut into round slices (1 cm - ¼ inch thick). Season with salt and pepper. Deep fry as well and drain on paper towels. Lay the eggplants on top of the potatoes in the same fashion. Keep any remaining slices to add on top of the beef sauce to absorb any excess sauce. This step is optional it won't make much difference if you don't.
TIP: -Soak eggplant slices in a big bowl of water for 15 minutes. This way you remove their bitterness giving them a more palatable flavor.
Now you can prepare the Bechamel Sauce (more instructions for the cream bellow ↓) and set aside until the ground beef sauce is ready. Once the ground beef sauce is cooked, spread it evenly on top of the eggplants.
Sprinkle some grated cheese and add remaining eggplant slices (if there are any). Then spread the bechamel cream on top along with some extra grated cheese on top of the cream to create a nice cheese crust while baking.
Bake in the oven until the cream gets firm and golden in color (takes about 30 to 40 minutes). Let Moussaka stand for at least 30 minutes so it will get firm and all come out in one piece when you cut it. Cut into 8 pieces and serve.
My Cheat-Sheet Bechamel Cream
There are basically two reasons why this Moussaka is liked by everyone. It's not too heavy because it has the most amazing and light Bechamel cream.
I had to cheat a bit in order to make it super light though. Traditionally, when making Bechamel cream you start by cooking the butter, along with flour to create what the French call a "roux".
This is the thickening base for a bechamel sauce and some other sauces as well. You then add the milk and cook until thickened. Whisk in the eggs once the cream is thickened and removed from heat. Some cheese and some even add an extra piece of butter at the end (my stomach hurts only at the thought of it).
The Authentic French recipe for a Bechamel sauce calls for clarified butter. Meaning the butter that's separated from its milk content. That's because milk gets burned when making the "roux" (the base) resulting in a heavy, burned milk flavor. Therefore a heavier cream. Also, it makes the cream more prone to form lumps as the texture of the base is denser.
So, since clarified butter is basically just the fat, and since you and I aren't going to go into all that fuss of setting a ben-marrie and wait for the butter to get clarified (not to mention "wasting it" because hey what are you going to do with its milk content?) I decided that the best thing is to use a light and neutral vegetable oil like sunflower oil instead.
This way you skip the burned butter flavor, it gives a light, shiny and refined texture to the cream, and minimizes the possibilities of making a lumpy cream down to 10% (you really have to try hard for that).
TIP: -The milk should be either warm or at room temperature to use in the cream. Again this helps to prevent a lumpy cream.
Can You Make Moussaka Ahead Of Time?
What I like to do when I'm really busy at our restaurant and have to make this fussy dish, is that I make the ground beef sauce the day before so a big part of the recipe is already done. I simply reheat the sauce in the microwave or in a pot and proceed on making the other layers.
So that is one thing. Another thing is that you can even make the bechamel cream the day before too. Keep in mind that it will get firmer when refrigerated so you may need to whisk in a bit of extra milk to bring it back to its former shape. Do not try to reheat though as it will stick to the pot. And there is just no need to do it!
Making Moussaka 1 day before cooking and serving is another option for busy people (if you have a fridge that fits the pan, otherwise, divide recipe and pan size in half or to two thirds). Just make sure you start baking it at a lower temperature ( 200°C / 392°F c for example) for an extra 10-15 minutes and then bring the heat up to 230°C / 446°F and cook for another 30-40 minutes more.
BEST Recipe For Greek Moussaka
For The Moussaka:
- 7 medium-sized potatoes 1200 grams / o2 lb + 10 oz
- 3 medium-sized eggplants 800 grams / 1lb + 12 oz
- frying oil
- 2-3 tablespoons powdered breadcrumbs
- salt & ground pepper
For The Bechamel Cream:
- 135 ml sunflower oil
- 115 grams / 4 oz flour
- 1 litre fresh milk warm or at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 150 grams / 5.2 oz Greek kefalotyri cheese or Romano cheese or Gruyere cheese grated
- 5 medium-sized eggs
- Start by making the GROUND BEEF SAUCE.
For The Moussaka:
- Heat plenty of frying oil in a frying pan, or use a deep fryer if you own one.
- Peel and slice the potatoes to ½ cm - ⅛ inch thick slices lengthwise. Season with salt and pepper.
- Deep fry the potatoes, until they get golden in color and slightly brownish on the edges.
- Transfer potatoes on paper towels to drain and set aside.
- Cut off the top and bottom of the eggplants. Slice the eggplants into 1 cm - ⅓ inch thick slices.
- Fill a large bowl with water and add the eggplants. Let them soak for at least 15 minutes to remove some of their bitterness.
- Transfer the eggplants to a strainer, season with salt and pepper, and then deep fry them too. Once they have a nice golden brownish color, remove from heat and transfer on paper towels as well.
- In a 15x10 inch baking pan or dish lay the potatoes. Press a bit with your hands to make them slightly stick together. Do the same with the eggplants.
For The Bechamel Cream:
- In a medium cooking pot whisk together the sunflower oil and flour.
- Cook over high heat for 2 minutes while whisking constantly until the flour gets a nice sandy color.
- Reduce heat to medium and add the milk. Whisk constantly until the cream starts to thicken.
- Remove from heat. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
- Whisk in the eggs one by one and ⅓ of the grated cheese.
- Preheat oven to 446°F / 230°C.
- Add 3-4 tablespoons powdered breadcrumbs to the ground beef sauce to thicken it. The spread it evenly on top of the eggplants. You may remove most of the spices from the sauce at this point.
- Sprinkle ⅓ of the grated cheese on top, and add any remaining eggplants (if there are any).
- using a ladle, spread the cream evenly on top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the cream.
- Bake for about 30-40 minutes. Until the cream starts to look golden brownish and firm.
- Let it stand for at least 30 minutes before serving.
- Cut into 8 pieces and serve.
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