make ahead moussaka?
I make what I think is a fairly traditional and very delicious moussaka with sauteed potatoes and eggplant, ragu and béchamel. However it is a rather labor intensive project. Question: I am making a Greek dinner for a group of 15 and going to be out of town for 3 days before the event. I'm torn...Should I make the moussaka completely and freeze the whole thing (and should that be baked or unbaked before freezing), or should I just make the individual components, and assemble when I am back in town. I've never experimented with this and don't believe I will have a chance for a dry run before the event. Any suggestions would be most appreciated!
I am sure it would freeze OK (like a frozen lasagna or something), but honestly for a party I would want to put forth my best...fresh is best. The ragu can be made and frozen, everything else will taste much more delicious if you do it the day-of. I must tell you that I usually make my moussaka meat sauce in double batches and freeze one, and when I use the frozen one, I always feel that making moussaka is a breeze, even with having to do the potatoes, eggplant, and bechamel. If you made ahead, the bechamel texture would be off, and the eggplant will go slimey because water will come out of it. Perhaps you could fry the sliced potatoes ahead without them suffering too much. But not the eggplant.
Actually, in Greece, moussaka is traditionally served warm to room temperature and NOT piping hot from the oven. It cuts into squares better that way and holds its shape when transferred to the dish. Moussaka also tastes better the day after. If faced with your circumstances, I'd bake the moussaka before I left, then just cool it, cover it with a good plastic wrap and let it nestle on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator while you're out of town. It will certainly keep for three days! Well, unless there's family left behind who love moussaka! On party day, I would heat it until it's hot all the way through but not in danger of overcooking and plan things so it comes out of the oven a half hour or so before serving to allow time for it to cool and set up.
If you're determined to freeze it, then assemble it to the point where you would pour the béchamel and freeze it without the sauce because my experience is that béchamel does NOT freeze and reheat well. Ice crystals often form in the béchamel with freezing, then the sauce breaks a bit while reheating. On party day, make the béchamel fresh and then pop the moussaka into the oven so it comes out with enough time to cool reasonably and set up.
Whatever you decide, good luck with your dinner party! I LOVE Greek food. Can I come too???? '-)