The first time I attempted to make moussaka, without my mum looking over my shoulder informing me of my mistakes before I even made any, I nailed it! She made me so nervous to attempt this on my own that I followed the recipe down to a T!
So, feeling confident and quite smug with myself, I thought to make a big tray and hand it out to the entire family. Let me tell you, confidence does not equal a perfect moussaka! That’s right, second attempt, I got wrong.
Being calorie conscious, I thought....
‘I don’t need that much oil to cook the veg’ ‘I’ll use 3% beef mince, why use more?’
‘Mince doesn’t need that long to cook if it’s going in the oven for a further 45mins’
And finally, ‘Why hurt my hand whisking the cream when I can just use an electric hand held mixer?’
Well, here’s why....
My vegetables didn’t cook through and were partly raw. I felt the moussaka crunch as I cut the pieces. My beef mince was dry and not soft enough. Using a hand held mixer to whisk the oil, butter, flour, and milk made my kitchen look like Casper had been massacred. Oh! And in the panic of it all, an egg shell fell into the mix.
So, lesson here to be learned.
Follow the recipe.
Don’t cut any corners.
And never cook over confidently!
4 Cyprus Potatoes
1kg 5% Beef Mince
1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes
1 Tin of Water
1 Tbsp Tomato Paste
1/2 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
2 Pints Milk
50g Unsalted Butter
110g Plain Flour
100ml Sunflower Oil
1 Cup Grated Mild Cheddar Cheese
1 Large Egg
25g Grated Parmesan
1/2 Tsp Salt
Pinch of Pepper
Slice all vegetables thinly and lay them out on baking trays. Drizzle well with oil (I use a brush to even the application of oil) and season with salt. Cover these with silver foil to quicken the cooking process. I advise to use as many baking trays that fit in your oven as this is the most time consuming stage. Once all slices are cooked, set them aside.
In the meantime, you can begin cooking your mince. Dice the onion and fry until soft and golden, do not over cook or burn. Add the beef mince until it changes colour, then add the tin of chopped tomatoes with one tin of water and the tomato paste. Bring to a boil and simmer for approximately 40 minutes, until the mince becomes soft adding salt, pepper and cinnamon. Once cooked add a handful of finely chopped parsley and set aside.
In your chosen baking dish begin to layer up the vegetables starting with potatoes to give you a solid base. Aubergines next then layer the courgettes. Add the mince on top of your vegetables to then layer your remaining vegetables on top of that. Begin backward, so courgettes, then aubergines finishing with potatoes. This will give your mousaka a nice smooth finish.
This part is probably the trickiest but practice makes perfect! Heat your milk to save time and make life easier for you. In a large saucer heat the butter and the sunflower oil. Gradually add the flour whisking vigorously to avoid any lumps forming, this will become a thick paste. Slowly add the milk in stages whilst whisking. Your hand will begin to hurt but keep going! Once this becomes a thick cream, add the grated cheese, egg and season with salt and pepper.
Now, slowly pour over the bechamel cream. As you pour this over, use your spatula to make dents in in the layers. This will allow the cream to drip through the bake. Once entirely covered evenly sprinkle some cinnamon and Parmesan cheese.
Place in the oven for 45 minutes 200C / 180C fan / gas mark 6.
All this can be done one day before. I like to make the mince and grill my veggies the day before finishing off the rest on the day. You can make the entire moussaka the day before and leave the last 45mins cooking for following day before serving.
The bechamel cream can be a two man job!
Do not use mince less than 5% as this will be too dry for this dish. My grandmother uses 12% or 15% if she can’t find 12%! If your mince begins to dry out, add half a tin of water and season to taste.
Do not cut back on oil when grilling your vegetables, they won’t cook! Traditionally all the veggies were fried, you can do this also but I find that this can make the dish quite oily.
If your mince has a lot of remaining water, use a stainless steel spoon with holes to place the mince on top of the layered vegetables.
You can make your mince a week earlier and freeze it. You can also freeze the entire moussaka once cooked or pieces of it IF there is any left over.
Costing under £20 for a tray size 27cm x 36cm, will give you 12 large pieces.
Half the measures for half the cost and half the tray size.