Delicious Saganaki: It's Cheese, It's Greek, and It's on Fire!
A Saganaki Firestorm!
At a Greek Festival - There's the Saganaki!
Last weekend, I went to the Greek Festival at our local church. Now, I’m not Greek, but I like Greek. My favorite neighborhood restaurant when I lived in New York City was Symposium, which was owned by Yanni, a funky Greek 60’s artist who was a friend of mine. He painted all the menus and light bulbs by hand, and the restaurant had a rosy romantic glow. Plato tells us that a symposium is a feast with food and wine and talk of love. Food, wine, and love: Now you know why I like Greek!
I enjoyed looking at the wooden sculptures, the fine dresses, the endless pastry. I took photos of people with wonderfully expressive faces laughing and enjoying their day.
Then I saw the saganaki. I can pat my belly and resist pastry, even baklava and galactoboureko.
But I can’t resist saganaki.
Ingredients: What is Saganaki Made of?
Saganaki a simple dish. It has just three ingredients: Cheese, oil, and fire. (The fire is made of brandy.)
As you read on to learn fun facts and the history of saganaki, also enjoy the photos. I took all of them in less than 5 minutes, from the moment my cheese started steaming in the hot pan to the saganaki on a plate, sliced and ready to eat. Yes, this is my saganaki in the photos. Enjoy!
Your Saganaki Experience
Have you ever tried saganaki? Flaming, or Fried?
The saganaki chef is a cheerful fellow. The display goes with his cries of Opa! as the flames spiral upwards.
The idea of making a flambee in front of the customer actually does not come from Greece. The classic cheese fried in a pan is from Greece. The brandy, fire, and big show began at a restaurant in Chicago, the Parthenon, in Greektown. A customer suggested the idea to the restaurant's owner, Chris Liakouras. Flaming saganaki spread across Canada and the US since it's invention in 1968.
Starting to Cook Saganaki
Greece is a land of cheeses, and many of them are used in saganaki. Most restaurants use kasseri cheese, which is just great. But traditional Greek food fanatics will tell you that kefalotyri and kefalograviera are better. The saganaki you see here was made with kefalotyri.
You can even use feta cheese, a Greek sheep cheese that is available at many delis and grocery stores.
Starting to Brown the Saganaki
Saganaki? What a Strange Word!
The word "saganaki" actually means "little frying pan." It all started with the sahn, a copper pan (in Arabic). That became sahan, copper pan, in Turkish, and sagan in Greek. A Greek sagan is a big frying pan with two handles. "iki" and "aki" are diminutive endings that mean "small." (A Greek man named Nicholas was probably called Niki as a boy.) So now you know: a saganaki is a small Greek frying pan.
So the proper name for this dish is Cheese Saganaki. There is also Shrimp Saganaki and Mussels Saganaki. These have seafood, feta cheese, and tomato sauce.
Time to Flip the Saganaki
Saganaki is a Quick Dish
Saganaki cooks in under five minutes. In fact, if you want a quick, fun dish, just fry up some cheese. Turn it as soon as one side is brown.
Flaming Saganaki: Now the Fire Starts
Saganaki is delicious without brandy and fire. But it's certainly more exciting like this!
Saganaki - Add the Brandy to Fuel the Fire!
A Flick of a Match . . .
A flick of a match or a lighter, and the fire is on it's way.
Of course, be careful. Make sure nothing flamable is near the stove. Have the exhaust fan on. Wear a hot mitt, like our chef here. And stand back so you don't get your eyebrows singed!
The Fire Leaps
More Brandy - More Fire!
You can add a bit more excitement to the show with a little more brandy.
Have a bottle of lemon juice handy to douse the flames!
Serving Time!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Have a Pita Ready
Have a nice round pita - traditional white, or healthy whole wheat - ready for the cheese. Pita is best lightly toasted or steamed.
One the cheese is in place, slice the saganaki in quarters, add lemon, and voilà! (oops, that's French) Opa! your saganaki is served.
You can also place the saganaki in a chafing dish and serve the pita - and maybe some kalamata olives - on the side.
Saganaki should be eaten fast. In 20 minutes, it turns into a mass of cold, gluey greasy cheese. This, however, is not a problem. I've never seen a saganaki last that long before it was swallowed down, leaving only a smile.
Try Making Saganaki Yourself
To make Saganaki, you need a cast-iron fry pan - you want to go with a high heat. Use a high-heat oil, too. Canola oil, or, if you're a natural type, coconut oil are good choices. Olive oil is not good for hot frying, though it's great cold on hummus - a Greek chickpea dip that goes great with saganaki.
Any brandy will do, and it's available at any liquor store.
If you use feta cheese, you can buy everything else you need, even the pita, at a local supermarket. If you want to use one of the other Greek cheeses, you can go to a Greek specialty grocery.
There are plenty of recipes on the web. Come back soon. I'll be trying them out, and then posting my own.