The Perfect Moussaka

A recipe for the perfect moussaka. This one is light, fluffy, with a golden crust, resting on silky layers of roasted aubergine and minced lamb…

The perfect moussaka is light and fluffy, with a golden crust, resting on thick, silky layers of roasted aubergine and minced lamb. Like most recipes originating from the Ottoman Empire, it has different variations all throughout the Balkans, the Levant and Greece. If you ask anyone from these areas: “What makes a moussaka?”, you’d get a different answer. Potatoes or aubergine? Lamb, beef, or no meat at all? Custard or béchamel?

perfect slice of moussaka with grated crispy cheese
I loved how the cheesy, crisp upper layer gently separated from the custard. Check out that lush, deep purple aubergine slice

My personal preference takes the roasted aubergine and tomatoes from Greece, and the custard and cheesy crust from the Balkans to give maximum flavour and texture.

I used to think getting the fluffy custard layer with the crisp cheesy crust was an exact science, but it isn’t. It’s actually quite forgiving and not that difficult to achieve.

The Ingredients

The Meat Filling
– Minced lamb
– Chopped onions
– Chopped garlic
– Harissa
– Ras el hanout
– Coriander
The Custard Topping
– 50g butter
– 50g flour
– 250ml cream
– 100ml water
– Sage
– Grated Parmesan
– Sliced Tomatoes
– Basil Leaves
The Aubergine Layer
– 2 medium aubergines
– olive oil

The Method

The Aubergine Layer
– Slice aubergine 0.5cm thick
– Brush with olive oil
– Lay on pan and add salt
– Bake at 180°C

The Meat Filling
– Caramelise the onions
– Add the chopped garlic
– Brown the meat
– Add the spices and harissa

The Custard Sauce
– Melt the butter
– Add the flour slowly to the butter to make the béchamel
– In a separate pan, warm the cream and water to just below boiling
– Add the the béchamel to the warmed cream
– Let cool for a bit, then break in 2 eggs, and mix

Assembling the Moussaka
– Alternate layers of aubergine with meat
– Pour the custard over the top
– Gently push the sliced tomatoes into the custard
– Bake at 180° for 30 minutes
– Take the moussaka out of the oven and sprinkle some grated Parmesan over the top.
– Bake for another 15 minutes

The custard sauce may seem a bit daunting, but is actually quite forgiving. The values given were what I started out with (50g butter and 50g flour) but I did add a bit more of each until the béchamel was the consistency I liked.

Preparation and Cooking Time: 90 minutes
30 to 45 minutes to prepare and assemble the ingredients, 45 minutes to bake the dish.

perfect moussaka with crispy cheese topping
Tomato slices and basil leaves add extra colour and flavour