Curious Cook: Holy mother of deliciousness, Batman!

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In classic French cuisine, there’s a concept called the Five Mother Sauces.

They are the five sauces from which all other sauces come.

They are (From Food52): Velouté: Roux + White Stock (traditionally chicken, but also vegetable or fish); Espagnole: Roux + Brown Stock (traditionally veal or beef); Tomato: Roux + Tomatoes (or, go the Italian route by skipping the roux and simply reducing tomatoes over medium-low heat until thick); Hollandaise: Egg Yolks + Clarified Melted Butter + Acid (like lemon juice or white wine); and probably the most versatile, or at least the creamiest and dairy-licious — Bechamel, or cream sauce.

Bechamel may seem simple, even when unadulterated, it transforms everything it touches. I put it on cauliflower and spinach the other night and it reminded me of the many different wonderful things cream sauce can do to a dish.

But it’s not delicious just spooned over foods and eaten as is.

Bechamel is awesome when baked. Think about baked macaroni and cheese and you’ll know what I mean, Gentle Reader.

But bechamel, as is, is also insane when baked. Recently I went to a Greek Festival, and they had Greek grandmothers making this ridiculous moussaka.

Greek grandmas aren’t big for giving over their recipes, so I searched and found the most authentic recipe I could find — from the grandson of the inventor of the dish.

Also below is a lunatic version of a sandwich from France. Like all great sandwiches, it’s an unusual collection of ingredients that somehow defy the odds and are perfect bites of sandwich love.

I will return to the Mother Sauces in upcoming columns. Wait ‘til you hear about Chef Boyardee.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at dm@bullcity.mom.

Moussaka

From Chef George Tselementes, grandson of Nikolaos Tselementes who invented the modern version of the Greek/European Dish in the 1920s.

4 medium-sized eggplant

5 medium-sized potatoes

a pinch of sugar

salt and pepper

sunflower oil

minced beef Bolognese

1 pound hamburger

1 chopped onion

1 tbsp tomato paste (passata)

1 wine glass of red wine

sunflower oil

½ teaspoon of sugar

salt & pepper

For the béchamel sauce

½ cup sunflower oil

½ cup flour

2 & ¾ cups milk at room temperature

2 eggs

½ cup grated Swiss type of cheese or parmesan

grated nutmeg

salt & pepper

Peel the potatoes and slice them into not too thin, not too thick slices. Slice the eggplants into thin rounds and fry. Place a deep pan over heat, add the sunflower oil and let it heat. Fry the potatoes over medium heat until softened and golden brown. Next, fry the eggplant at a higher heat. Drain the excess oil from both on a baking pan lined with paper towels.

Minced beef Bolognese

Sauté the chopped onion in a saucepan with a little sunflower oil. Once golden brown, add the minced meat and stir frequently. Add the wine and then salt, pepper and sugar. Dilute the tomato paste in cold water, pour into the pot, fill with more warm water and bring to a boil.

For the béchamel sauce

Place a pot over heat. Add the sunflower oil and the flour and whisk quickly until it soaks up all of the oil and starts to get some color. Add the milk in small batches while continuously whisking so that no lumps form. As soon as the béchamel sauce thickens and bubbles start to form on the surface, remove from heat. Add the salt, pepper and grated nutmeg. Once slightly cooled, add the 2 eggs, and whisk thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 350°. In a 9x13 baking pan, spread a layer of potatoes, season with salt and pepper and cover with a layer of eggplants and again season, making sure you don’t leave any gaps. Cover with half the minced bolognese and then add another layer of eggplant and add a bit of sugar. Continue spreading the rest of the minced meat and finish with another layer of eggplant, which again we season with salt, pepper and a little sugar. Cover with the béchamel sauce, spreading it evenly and sprinkle with a little bit of grated cheese or parmesan.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes before cutting.

Croque Monsieur Ham and Cheese Sandwich

Gruyère cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)

¼ cup Grated parmesan cheese (packed)

8 slices French or Italian loaf bread

12 ounces ham, sliced

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 400°F

Make the béchamel sauce and stir the Parmesan and 1/4 cup of the grated Gruyère into warm sauce. Set aside.

Toast bread slices in oven: Lay out the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast them in the 400°F oven, a few minutes each side, until lightly toasted. For extra flavor you can spread some butter on the bread slices before you toast them if you want.

(Alternatively, you can assemble the sandwiches as follows in step four and grill them on a skillet, finishing them in the broiler with the bechamel sauce.)

Build the sandwiches: Lightly brush half of the toasted slices with mustard. Add the ham slices and about 1 cup of the remaining Gruyère cheese. Top with the other toasted bread slices.

Add bechamel, more Gruyere. Spoon on the béchamel sauce to the tops of the sandwiches. Sprinkle with the remaining Gruyère cheese.

Broil till bubbly: Place on a broiling pan. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then turn on the broiler and broil for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until the cheese topping is bubbly and lightly browned.

If you top this sandwich with a fried egg it becomes a Croque Madame.

Basic Bechamel

1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter

3 Tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour

1-3/4 cups whole milk, heated

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Small pinch freshly grated nutmeg

In a 2-qt. saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let the mixture brown. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and bring just to a simmer, whisking frequently. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened to a creamy, gravy-like consistency and no longer tastes of raw flour, 6 to 8 minutes for a single batch, 10 to 12 minutes for a double batch. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Makes 1 & ½ cups.

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