January 31st, 2010

Exquisite Lamb Moussaka

Cooking is my life but it does not necessarily mean that I have to reinvent the wheel every time I get the pots and pans out. As part of my daily routine at work I’m challenged most days to cook classic well known recipes and cook them really well rather than create new ground breaking recipes, concepts and ideas. However I may apply a twist and update the techniques and enhance the flavour profiles.

That is exactly what I have done with this age old dish of moussaka. I was brought up in a country with a healthy Greek community so moussaka was a well known dish on our dinner table. The interesting thing is that we never used to make our moussaka with potatoes. Recently I was challenged to make a moussaka at work and a lengthy debate ensued as to whether it contains potatoes or not.

Well after the debate none of us were any the wiser so I was intrigued to do some research  to determine the origins of moussaka  and to simply answer the potato question.

I discovered that moussaka was first made in North Africa and used to be heavily scented with rich spices such as cumin, nutmeg and cinnamon and no it did not contain potatoes nor the well known yoghurt sauce. It soon spread to Greece and the Greeks took this dish on as one of their national dishes but added their own stamp on this age old recipe. The Greeks added potatoes, toned down the fragrant spices and they also added the yoghurt egg sauce, this became the established way of making moussaka. The outcome is that no one was right or wrong about the potato debate.

What it did highlight to me was that food is incredibly subjective and that we all like to add our own mark on something we enjoy making.

I have twisted this recipe in so many ways and it takes hours to prepare so I have  used some rather fancy modern cooking techniques. For the moussaka I  confit the shoulder of lamb in duck fat for 3 hours and then added the cooked flaked meat to a rich tomato sauce. I added a slow cooked lamb cutlet, semi-dried tomatoes and a mild harissa sauce to reconnect this dish with it’s original North African roots.

It’s a pretty dainty and small dish and it was designed  to go onto these stunning French plates that I bought from Liberty. I love the character of the plates, they are paper thin, unique but unbelievably beautiful.

All in all I think that this dish and my take on this kitchen classic works pretty well and brings a splash of brightness into the dark and dreary winters days.

Individual Lamb Moussakas

  • 1kg shoulder of lamb, boneless
  • Duck fat to cover the shoulder of lamb
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 large sprigs of thyme and rosemary
  • 3 large banana shallots, peeled
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 800g of chopped tomatoes (2 small tins)
  • 1tbs tomato puree
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 50ml sherry vinegar
  • 200ml red wine
  • 2tbs chopped mixed soft herbs such as chervil, chives, tarragon and parsley
  • 1 aubergine, you need 12 1/2 cm slices if the aubergine is small then you will need a second
  • 160ml natural yoghurt
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • freshly grated nutmeg

Confit Lamb Shoulder: Preheat the oven to 160°C. Select a deep casserole dish that will allow the shoulder of lamb to be covered with duck fat.

Rub salt and pepper generously over the boneless shoulder of lamb. Place the lamb in the casserole dish, add 1 bay leaf and the 2 large sprigs of thyme and rosemary. Melt the duck fat and cover the lamb shoulder with the duck fat, place a piece of parchment paper on the surface of the fat and bring  to a gentle simmer over a low heat. Place a lid on top to cover the dish and transfer the dish to the preheated oven. Cook the lamb shoulder for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, insert a sharp knife, if the knife comes out easily the lamb is tender enough and cooked, if it struggles slightly return the lamb to the oven and continue cooking until tender.

Carefully remove the lamb from the oven and leave it to cool for about 30 minutes. Drain the fat and place the lamb on a cooling rack for any remaining fat to drip off, leave it for about 30 minutes. Whilst the lamb is still warm but not too hot, flake the meat and remove as much fat as possible. Set the flaked meat aside until the tomato sauce is ready.

Make the tomato sauce whilst the lamb is cooking in the oven: Finely dice the shallots and crush the garlic. Heat a medium saucepan with the oil and saute the shallots, garlic, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and seasoning until golden.

Add the tomato puree, sugar and sherry vinegar and cook for 2 minutes until the shallots become sticky, add the red wine and cook until the wine become sticky and coating the shallots.

Add the chopped tomatoes and more seasoning, bring the sauce to a gentle simmer and cook for about 30 minutes over low heat until the tomato sauce become thick and rich.

Once the sauce is ready add the flaked cooked lamb shoulder to the tomato sauce and mix well.

Add the 2tbs of chopped mixed soft herbs to the meat and tomato mixture and leave to cool.

Griddle the aubergines: Heat a griddle pan on the cooker until very hot. Slice the aubergines into 1/2 cm thick slices, lay them on a baking tray, season on both sides and brush them with olive oil. Griddle the aubergines until they have dark bar marks on both sides. Set aside until needed.

Yoghurt Sauce: In a small bowl whisk the egg yolks and yoghurt together and season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg.

Assemble the Moussaka: Assemble the moussakas up to one day in advance and keep refrigerated until needed.

Use 6 5cm wide x 3.5cm high metal rings. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and place the rings onto the tray.

Spoon in the meat and tomato mixture , place a slice of aubergine on top and a teaspoonful of the yoghurt mixture, this should half fill the ring, add another layer of meat and aubergine and finish the moussaka with the yoghurt sauce. TIP: if the aubergine slice is too wide then cut a wedge out like you would cut a wedge of cake, pull the sides together to shape a circle that would fit inside your ring a perfect band of purple aubergine skin on the outside.

Repeat the process until all the rings are filled. Keep the moussakas refrigerated until needed.

Mild Harissa Sauce

  • 25ml sunflower oil
  • 1 large red chilli, remove the green stalk
  • 1 banana shallot, peeled
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • Pinch of Garam Masala
  • Pinch of cumin seeds
  • 6 coriander seeds
  • 1tbs sherry vinegar
  • 1tsp tomato puree
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 150ml vegetable or chicken stock

Chop the banana shallot and the chilli and crush the garlic.

Heat a small saucepan with the oil and saute the chopped chilli, shallots, garlic, garam masala, cumin seeds, coriander seeds until the shallots start to turn transparent and take on colour. Add the sugar, tomato puree, sherry vinegar and seasoning, cook for 1 minute stirring continuously.

Add the stock and bring the sauce to a gentle simmer for 12 minutes.

Pulse the sauce with a stick blender to bring it all together, do not blend the sauce too much as the colour will become light orange and rather unpleasant looking.

Set aside until needed.

Make the sauce one day in advance and keep refrigerated until needed.

Semi-dried Baby Plum Tomatoes

  • 12 baby plum tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1tsp chopped fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 100°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half.

Place the cut tomatoes on the cooling racks, lightly season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper and scatter the chopped thyme over the tomatoes.

Place the tray in the preheated oven for approximately three hours. I set a timer for two hours to begin with and then check them and increase the drying time to to suit my needs.

Once the tomatoes are semi-dried remove the tray from the oven and set aside to cool.

You can dry the tomatoes in advance and keep them in a glass jar in the fridge. Cover the tomatoes with olive oil, when you are ready to use the tomatoes, drain them from the oil alternatively use them immediately.

Sous-Vide Rack of Lamb

  • 6/7 bone rack of lamb, french trimmed and debarked
  • Salt
  • 2 whole black pepper corns
  • 1 sprig of thyme and rosemary

Preheat the water bath to 62°C.

Prepare the rack of lamb by cleaning the bones, season with a small amount of salt. Place the rack into a vacuum bag, add the herbs and peppercorns.

Seal the bag on hard vacuum and insert the thermometer needle if you have one.

Place the rack of lamb in the preheated water bath and cook until the core temperature reaches 40°C, it takes about 40 -45 minutes however it all depends on the size of the rack and how many items you have in the bath at the same time. For these reasons I recommend using the thermometer designed to be used for sous-vide cookery.

Once the rack is cooked, remove the rack from the vacuum pouch and pat it dry with kitchen paper.

Assemble the dish

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Bake the moussakas for 20 minutes until the yoghurt sauce becomes golden brown.

Heat a non stick frying pan over medium heat, add a teaspoon of butter. Once the butter starts to foam and brown,place the sous-vide rack of lamb  fat side down, until the fat turns golden brown, this takes about 5- 6 minutes. Turn the lamb over and seal the other side for a further 2 minutes. Transfer the rack of lamb to a cooling rack and leave to rest for 4- 5 minutes so that the meat releases it's juices.

Remove the ring from the baked moussakas, place the mousaka on the plate, spoon the sauce onto the plate.

Carve the lamb into 6 even size cutlets, season the cut side of the meat with Maldon sea salt and place one cutlet on each plate.

Garnish the plates with the semi-dried tomatoes and small watercress leaves and a few drops of extra virgin olive oil.

Serve immediately

Serves 6

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24 Comments to “Exquisite Lamb Moussaka”

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  1. Barry says:

    This is the Madalene presentation and innovation that helps me soo much in my sphere of work… many thanks again and again

  2. Madalene says:

    HI Catherine,

    Please see this recipe for lamb shoulder cooked in the water bath.
    Happy Cooking

  3. catherine says:

    Can you cook the shoulder of lamb sous vide and if so what temp and for how long

  4. jill says:

    Can you give us your thoughts on what you most love, in flavour terms, about sous vide cooking. I’d like to know both for prime cuts like rack of lamb and for cheap cuts that need long cooking like shin of beef.

    Your blog is a delight.


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