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Delicious Saganaki: It's Cheese, It's Greek, and It's on Fire!

Updated on February 25, 2013

A Saganaki Firestorm!

Source

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?

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Saganaki Chef

This chef certainly enjoys his job!
This chef certainly enjoys his job! | Source

Opa!

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

The cheese steams when it hits the hot frying pan
The cheese steams when it hits the hot frying pan | Source

Greek Cheese

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

The cheese for the saganaki is starting to brown on the bottom
The cheese for the saganaki is starting to brown on the bottom | Source

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

In under two minutes, when the cheese is brown on one side, flip it over
In under two minutes, when the cheese is brown on one side, flip it over | Source

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!

In any flambee, brandy fuels the fire
In any flambee, brandy fuels the fire | Source

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

The fire leaps from the pan
The fire leaps from the pan | Source
Source

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!

More brandy makes the saganaki flambee last longer
More brandy makes the saganaki flambee last longer | Source

Serving Time!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
When the saganaki is brown on both sides, it's ready to serveSlip it onto a spatulaDrop it on a slice of pitaSlice and serve with lemon
When the saganaki is brown on both sides, it's ready to serve
When the saganaki is brown on both sides, it's ready to serve | Source
Slip it onto a spatula
Slip it onto a spatula | Source
Drop it on a slice of pita
Drop it on a slice of pita | Source
Slice and serve with lemon
Slice and serve with lemon | Source

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.

Saganaki Live!

Source

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.

Opa!

Fire in the Kitchen

Would you try a flambee in your own kitchen!

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Comments

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    • SidKemp profile imageAUTHOR

      Sid Kemp 

      5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Be sure to send me a photo of your singed eyebrows, and we'll post it!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 

      5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Oh no, I couldn't skip the flaming part of this recipe! That just adds to the excitement of this recipe! I will have Johnny handy, with the fire extinguisher! LOL :)

    • SidKemp profile imageAUTHOR

      Sid Kemp 

      5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, SGbrown. If you can't find Greek cheese, try provolone. And if you want, try it indoors and skip the flaming part! Let us know how it works out.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 

      5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      This sounds awesome! My family loves cheese and this would be such an easy, yet flamboyant treat! I hope to find either of the cheeses you mentioned to try this with. I really like pita bread too, I can't wait to see if I can find a good Greek cheese for this. I would love to cook and serve this, but it would be done outside, at least for the first time. Voting this up, useful and interesting! :)

    • SidKemp profile imageAUTHOR

      Sid Kemp 

      5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Good choice, especially since you have such nice eyebrows!

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 

      5 years ago

      What an interesting dish! I never heard of saganaki before. I have a few Greek restaurants in my neighborhood, so I'll check to see if they serve this. I probably won't try making it in my own kitchen, though. I don't want to lose my eyebrows! LOL

    • SidKemp profile imageAUTHOR

      Sid Kemp 

      5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Keep an eye out - I plan to add some Saganaki recipe hubs soon!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      5 years ago from Western New York

      I definitely want to try this! I am NOT going to try it in my own kitchen, though - I would definitely set the house on fire if I tried! Maybe on an outdoor grill (with fire extinguisher at the ready)! Great hub, Sid!

    • SidKemp profile imageAUTHOR

      Sid Kemp 

      5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Yup, Tex, it's American Greek - originally from Chicago. Hope you get to try it soon!

    • JimTxMiller profile image

      Jim Miller 

      5 years ago from Wichita Falls, Texas

      How did I spend months in Athens and miss this? Could it be a Greek delight of American origin like our Tex-Mex? Regrettably, crumbled feta is the only Greek cheese known to our local markets, but the next time I happen upon a Greek neighborhood....!

    • SidKemp profile imageAUTHOR

      Sid Kemp 

      5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Hi Paul - thanks for asking. The other cheeses for Saganaki are not at all like feta. In texture, they're like provolone. The flavor is stronger, about as strong as a mild cheddar, but very different. I'm starting to think Greek, so maybe a seafood saganaki hub is in our future!

    • promaine profile image

      promaine 

      5 years ago from New York

      SidKemp, Thanks! This sounds fun, although I may want to be careful around my stove. I'm avoiding cheese but I'm curious--like feta, are these all salty-savory cheeses? Hope you have a chance to post some non-cheese Saganaki--the seafood sound interesting!

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