Wild Game Moussaka
I make the sauce first and let it simmer while I prepare the rest. It can even be done a few days ahead of time, and improves with age.
Next, I salt the eggplant, which helps it release its water content and keeps it from getting bogged down and greasy. (I also make an eggplant-free version of moussaka for my kids, who are just going to pick it out anyway!)
I preheat the oven and put on a large pot of water to boil the potato slices.
When the potatoes are in the water, I pop the eggplant in the oven. By now my sauce has been simmering for about 20 minutes, and I taste it and adjust the spices.
I make the béchamel sauce, and set it aside.
Finally, I assemble the moussaka and put it in the oven, and sit down to a nice glass of wine while my house fills with the rich cinnamony aroma.
Serves 6-8, and you should have leftover meat sauce
- 2 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
- 2 large russet potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
- Kosher salt (for salting the eggplant and the potato water)
for the sauce:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 pounds ground bison, antelope, venison or elk
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 cup dry red wine (such as a rioja, or a crianza)
- 2 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
for the béchamel:
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 3 egg yolks
- 4 ounces soft goat cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
or if you want to skip the béchamel:
- 2 cups crumbled feta from a 10 ounce block
- First, prepare the sauce. In a large heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat, and add the onion. Sauté for 7-8 minutes until they are just starting to brown. Add the garlic, and sauté for another minute.
- Add the ground meat, stirring to break it up, and cook for about 10 minutes until no longer pink. (If using wild game, you will not likely need to drain off the fat. If using lamb, you will want to pour off any grease at this point.)
- Add the tomatoes, the spices, and the red wine. Bring to a boil.
- Add the tomato paste, and stir to incorporate. Simmer the sauce over low heat (it should be gently bubbling) while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Next, preheat the oven to 450ºF, bring a large pot of water to boil, and prepare the eggplant. Place the eggplant slices on a baking sheet, discarding any with brown spots, and sprinkle liberally with Kosher salt. Set aside.
- Once the water boils, add a tablespoon of salt, and slip in the slices of potato. Cook for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft but not quite done. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon, and set in a colander to drain.
- Using paper towels, pat the eggplant dry of any water it has released, and place the eggplant on 2 baking sheets in a single layer. Brush with olive oil and flip over, then brush the other side. Bake at 450ºF for 15 minutes, then turn the slices over. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, being careful not to let them burn. When the eggplant is done, set it aside and turn the oven down to 400ºF.
- Make the béchamel: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until melted. Slowly, a few teaspoons at a time, sprinkle the flour over the butter while constantly whisking. Cook for 2 minutes, whisking the whole time. Slowly add the milk--keep whisking!--and cook until the sauce thickens. Add the nutmeg, salt, and a few turns of the pepper grinder. Set aside to cool (it should be barely lukewarm when you add the egg yolks) then whisk in the egg yolks and the goat cheese.
- Assemble: Butter a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish, and place a single layer of eggplant on the bottom. Cover with meat sauce, then top with a single layer of potato. Cover with meat sauce, then eggplant, then meat sauce, then potato. Top with a final layer of meat sauce, and then spread the béchamel sauce (or crumbled feta) evenly over the top.
- Bake uncovered in the preheated 400ºF oven for 45-50 minutes, or until the top is puffy and brown. Rest for 15 minutes before serving.