Friday, April 9, 2010

Greek Feast, Part Five: Saganaki

Opa! What Greek feast would be complete without cheese and fire? Not ours, that's for certain!

There was a bit of a debate on my Facebook page, when I was discussing the possibility of saganaki for the evening, as to whether or not saganaki is actually a Greek dish, or whether it was started in Chicago and is just assumed to be Greek, in much the same way fortune cookies are assumed to be Chinese. Personally, I love fire and cheese, and I'm a Chicago girl, so I'm perfectly willing to accept it either way.

The eminent wikipedia seems to believe that saganaki is actually a Greek dish, named after the pan it is traditionally prepared in, but that the flambee part of the dish originated in Chicago, and is predominantly an American tradition. The perfect fusion of cultures, if you ask me. Pan-fried cheese lit on fire. Opa!

There are a variety of cheeses that can be used to make saganaki; the one that was most readily available to us was kasseri. My husband had parked in Chicago's Greektown, not too far from his office building, that day, so he offered to pick up the cheese. As it turned out, the area he parked in had no grocers nearby (or perhaps there ARE no Greek grocers in Greektown, only Greek restaurants), so he ventured into a restaurant with which he is fairly familiar and asked if he could buy some of their saganaki cheese off of them. Apparently they weren't in the mood to be generous, even for a well-known customer, because they sold him the plain saganaki cheese for the price at which they would sell the full saganaki experience! So our do-it-yourself saganaki cost us just as much as it would to go to the restaurant and have them do it for us.

While he was off on his cheese-procuring mission, S-Pidge and I were busy checking out saganaki recipes. What would we need? Turns out just a bit of egg, flour, oil, a lemon, the cheese itself... and, of course, the alcohol for the flambee part. "Do you have brandy?" she texted me. I check our bar downstairs, which is quite well stocked despite the fact that neither of us are big drinkers. Alas, no brandy. But I have cognac! (This is a mystery to me, since neither my husband nor I DRINK cognac. The bottle has never been opened. But it was there!) Somewhere in the dim recesses of my brain, I recall hearing that brandy and cognac are similar, or perhaps the same. I turn to my trusty friend, The Internet, for answers. And The Internet is plentiful in its bounty, for it teaches me that cognac is a distilled form of brandy. Thus, all cognacs are brandy (but not all brandies are cognacs). DING DING DING! Project saganaki is a go!

Keep your eye on S-Pidge; she'll drink up all the Hennessy you got on your shelf!

To make this delicious dish, you just heat up some olive oil in a pan on the stove. While the oil is heating, beat up an egg or two. Dip the cheese slice(s) in egg, then coat them with flour. Drop them in the oil and pan-fry them until golden brown on both sides.

oh delicious cheese, soon to be fried and flamed.

Some folks dispense with the flouring process and just fry up the cheese; some broil the cheese instead of pan-frying it. I don't know how those methods turn out, but I will say that not only did our flour-pan-fry method turn out DELICIOUS, it was very similar to the saganaki I've eaten at various Greek restaurants.

Just look at that gorgeous piece of saganaki, right in the middle of the plate.

We removed the saganaki from the pan and put it into a (hopefully fire-safe) serving dish, carried it into the dining room, poured a tiny bit of cognac on top, and took a match to it. FLAMBEE! Let it burn for a few seconds, then squeeze half a lemon over each piece to put the fire out. DELICIOUS. Though my five year old son was very suspicious of the entire process, and kept asking us why the cheese tasted like BEER the entire time he was eating it. Ah, the suggestibility of a young mind. (If you've never had saganaki, I assure you it doesn't taste like alcohol at all. You use such a minimal amount, and it all burns off anyway! Also you don't HAVE to flambee the cheese... but why WOULDN'T you??)

It IS on fire here, it's just hard to tell because the flash was on. What we lack in photographic abilities, we make up for in flavor! And fire!


1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup of flour
1 slice of kasseri cheese, about 3 inches wide, 1/2 inch thick
olive oil
1 lemon
a dash of brandy or cognac

In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. While the oil is heating, dredge the cheese slice in the beaten egg, then coat liberally with flour. Put the cheese in the pan and fry until brown on one side; flip over and brown the other side. Remove cheese to a fire-safe plate. Pour a dash of brandy (or cognac) on top, light. Shout "Opa!" and squeeze half of the lemon on top to extinguish the flames. Cut into slices and serve immediately.

That's how we roll.

I am participating in the Global Cook Along project, where we try recipes from around the world. We focus on one region's cuisine each week. We try to do ours as one big potluck-style meal each week, but other people are doing one meal a night, a week, whatever works for them! To learn more, see additional recipes, or to participate yourself, check out our livejournal community and / or our facebook group!

with love from K-Pidge :)

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