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Bechamel Sauce: 1 Kari: O

September 28, 2014

Moussaka is pretty much on the short list of my favorite things to eat of all times.

We have a whole bunch of huge, black, perfect globes of eggplant from our garden (yesterday’s blog). Baking a batch of moussaka is a no brainer.

So, the recipe I finally chose–because it claimed to be a simple, authentic moussaka recipe (Craig Clairborne himself said it was the best), a standard version of the classic dish and fairly straight forward–said prep time would be an hour. Easy peasy.

The thing is… moussaka is topped with a bechamel sauce, and I hate bechamel sauces (because they freak me out and they never work for me), but the recipe had a very small paragraph dedicated to the making of this particular bechamel sauce, therefore, I decided it couldn’t be that hard. I would not fail the short-paragraph of a bechamel sauce.

However, I did fail the bechamel sauce.  Like I always do. And also, prep time was something like four hours (well, that included shopping).

WTH.

But first, let me show you what did work well about the moussaka making:

Peeled and cut our beautiful eggplants and set them to sweat (by sprinkling with salt) and drain. Thirty minutes. Not an attractive process, but it worked well:

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Then, browned them up in a bit of olive oil (many batches; this took awhile). (And I burned myself.)

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And let them drain again:

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Mixed up a concoction of red wine, cinnamon, parsley and tomato paste and set it aside:

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Then browned three very oniony onions (these were from Eatwell Farms):

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To which I then added ground lamb, continuing to saute until the lamb was cooked, then added the red wine mixture.

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It cooked down for about an hour, until the liquid had soaked into the meat and any extra had evaporated. The smell in the kitchen at this point was insane.

Now the stupid bechamel. Melted the butter and whisked an equal amount of flour on low for about five minutes. Fine.

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Then added a quart of milk, a small amount at a time. I should have heated the milk first, but I forgot. It was supposed to thicken, but it never did. I knew it wouldn’t. I went to the interwebs and read up on bechamel sauces and learned that the butter/flour to milk ratio affects the thickness (of course). I decided that perhaps, given the ratio called for in the recipe, maybe it was supposed to be thin at this point. Because I still had yet to add this stuff:

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This is ricotta, egg and nutmeg.  I figured that when that got added, it would thicken up.

It did not.

I figured I had to go to the store to get more milk and ricotta and start all over. Or just bag the whole thing and go to Symposium (they make the best moussaka ever).  I was suddenly in a very foul mood.

Jim, who possibly did better in chemistry than I did, had an idea.  He just assumed I had not let the bechamel go long enough to thicken, because all the ingredients were there in the right proportions. He tested this theory on a tiny amount of the bechamel-ricotta-egg mixture by returning it to the stove and heating it up some more. It actually thickened. So we heated & stirred the mixture in small batches until we’d thickened up the whole thing. We didn’t know what we’d done to the egg in the mixture which was definitely not supposed to be cooked prior to baking it, but just in case we’d lost whatever value the egg was supposed to add, we added two egg whites to the thickened sauce.

The mixture was thick enough to spread, which is what was supposed to happen. My foul mood softened; maybe this would turn out after all. So, into the casserole went alternating layers of bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, eggplant slices, lamb, and finished with thick-enough-to-spread bechamel-ricotta-egg. It looked like this going in.

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An hour later, it looked like this…

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A little burned in spots, but fine. And actually, surprise… it tasted just about perfect. I am not kidding.

Moussaka, rice, zucchini, proseco (instead of retsina), baklava and mint gelato for dessert.  Peter had ham and eggs on toast (given we had a few egg yolks sitting around). (Though he admitted the moussaka smelled good.)

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And enough moussaka for another few dinners. Makes me incredibly happy.

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