Saganaki is a popular Greek cheesy appetizer: a golden, crunchy exterior that gives way to a melted cheese interior.

Cheese Saganaki

Is there anyone who does not like fried cheese? In Greece ordering a “saganaki” basically means fried cheese. Crunchy on the outside, melted cheese on the inside and warm. A perfect appetizer to start any meal.

The Real Story of the Greek Flaming Cheese in Chicago

If you have ever visited a Greek restaurant in the US, you have surely come across the flaming saganaki, also known as the flaming cheese. While saganaki, fried or pan-seared cheese has always existed, the flaming cheese is a Greek-American thing. It was invented by the owner of the Parthenon restaurant Chris Liakouras in Greektown in Chicago in the late 60’s, and since then has been a fixture in most Greek restaurants.

My father’s first hand description at the time: “There were long lines outside of the Parthenon, waiting to get in not only because of the food and saganaki, but also the hospitality. Liakouras (the owner), would give out (on the house) free shots of ouzo to the customers waiting patiently outside on the sidewalk. When you ordered this flaming cheese, the waiter would pour some brandy or ouzo and set it on fire and yell “OPA” and they would ring sheep bells they had brought from Greece. People loved it. The Greeks though preferred their saganaki without the flame show”

Dimitris Paravantes

It is not the cheese that is on fire, but the plate. The cheese is fried in a small pan on the stovetop and then transferred to a dish or little pan. The word saganaki actually means a little pan and that’s where the name comes from. Saganaki is traditionally prepared in a special heavy-bottomed frying pan, which is also called a saganaki.

In Greece we do not do the flaming thing (only in some touristy places), but the saganaki as an appetizer is quite popular when eating out at a tavern here. It is ordered as a meze (appetizer) and shared among everyone at the table.

The Right Kind of Cheese for Saganaki

Obviously you need a cheese that is hard, that will not just melt in your pan. The standard cheese is kefalotyri. You may also try kegalograviera, graviera or kasseri. You should be able to find these cheeses in certain stores, if not you can try Pecorino Romano. Then there is also the Cypriot halloumi and formaela from Arahova, but these do not melt that much although they are equally delicious.

How to Make Saganaki

So let’s see how to make this delectable appetizer at home. Some restaurants deep fry this cheese, but I feel that you can’t taste the cheese that way, you end up eating more crust than cheese, plus it doesn’t really need it. The goal here is to get a nice crust and get the cheese in the middle to soften and melt just a bit, and once you do this, you must eat it right away, otherwise the cheese will get hard. You only need 3 ingredients: flour, olive oil and the cheese as you will not be making some sort of breading.

  • Take the slice of cheese and dip it in cold water, then in white flour, shaking to remove excess and smoothing it with your fingers.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small pan under medium heat. Once hot, place the cheese in the pan and fry for about 2 minutes than flip carefully (I use a thin rubber spatula). Be careful not to let the crust slide off. Fry on the other side for about 2 minutes. The crust should be golden.
  • Remove from pan and place on a plate, squeeze some lemon over it and serve right away.

How to Serve Saganaki

This is quite an easy appetizer to make, but you cannot make it ahead since it must be served hot. There is no reason to make ahead since it literally takes only 5 minutes to make. Saganaki is served with a bit of lemon and that’s it. Place it on the table and cut it in bite size pieces. Generally it is not consumed with bread, I find that it is nice to eat with a salad like a simple tomato salad or a romaine as it balances out all richness of the cheese. Now let me add, this is not the healthiest food, but remember, a saganaki is usually shared among 2-4 people which corresponds to just a few ounces of cheese.

You may also like these cheesy recipes

Want Insider’s Mediterranean Diet Guidance? Get my top-rated book!

Get it here >> The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Beginners

Saganaki – Greek Fried Cheese

Cheese Saganaki
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 4 minutes
Saganaki is a popular Greek cheesy appetizer: a golden, crunchy exterior that gives way to a gooey, melted cheese interior, all served piping hot.
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Greek, Mediterranean
Keyword: Cheese, Fried
Servings: 4
Author: Elena Paravantes
Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Flour
  • 1 thick square slice of kefalotyri or other hard cheese see above around 4 x 4 inches (11 x 11 cm). Thickness must be at least 2/3 of an inch or 1 ½ cm. If it is thinner, it will melt.
  • Lemon for serving

Instructions

  • Take the slice of cheese and dip it in cold water, then in white flour, shaking to remove excess and smoothing it with your fingers.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small pan under medium heat. Once hot, place the cheese in the pan and fry for about 2 minutes than flip carefully (I use a thin rubber spatula). Be careful not to let the crust slide off. Fry on the other side for about 2 minutes. The crust should be golden.
  • Remove from pan and place on a plate, squeeze some lemon over it and serve right away.
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? Leave a comment or share on instagram and mention @greekdiet

SAVE FOR LATER AND PIN IT!

saganaki recipe

Photos by Elena Paravantes © All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




23 Comments

  1. It is simply a pleasure reading everyone’s story about this simple and delicious treat. It reminded me of one of the first times I shared this treat with my wife and children. We were on vacation in the Bahamas and right in town upstairs above a jewelry store is this quaint Greek restaurant that serves the most delicious food. My children’s eyes lit up to the flames as we all enjoyed a delightful meal! We will be enjoying Saganaki this Sunday with our Easter breakfast. Thank you5 stars

  2. I had this years ago at a Greek restaurant in Safety Harbor, FL. We loved it! I recently bought a Scandinavian “melting cheese” which reminded me of Saganaki. I don’t have much information on it but I’m going to try that cheese in this recipe.

    1. Our experience with saganaki was at Hellas Restaurant in Tarpon Springs. They also serve delicious gyros, and their bakery next door is the place to buy baklava!!!

  3. I grew up as a young child in Danville about 150 miles south of Chicago before moving to Oregon as a teenager. I remember going to Cubs games, and going to the Parthenon with my dad. He always ordered the saganaki. I really want to try this out at home.

    1. I grew up doing the same! The Parthenon is credited with creating this dish. While Greek inspired, it’s actually from there. Easy to research and verify. Sadly they shut down I understand

    1. Wow!
      Sounds Great, Will Try It Your Way!
      Adriaan Büys
      South Africa
      Ps Just For Eating Avo As A Salad, I Put Toasted Sesame Seeds On The Avo! Taste Great Or In Curry’s.

  4. Nice work. You got the story of Flaming Cheese correct. Concocted in Chicago in the ’60s, it soon migrated to Detroit Greektown. It was a dramatic hit. So often, folk get the story wrong. Not you. Take a bow.
    Cheers!

      1. I grew up in Chicago going to Greek restaurants and this was always a staple part of the meal. I recently made it for the first time to include lighting it on fire with brandy. Wow! So easy, fun and delicious! And my eight year old daughter thinks it’s a hoot, too!

      2. My first saganaki cheese was in Pythagoria on Samos. It was in a little seaside tavernas, and it was flamed with 12 star mettaxa then doused with lemon juice. I’ve been making that way ever since. They also used course corn meal instead of flour.

    1. I had a friend, John in the 70s he had a beautiful Greek restaurant in Peoria il. I had my first taste of saganaki. I had to stop by every other day to get my fix. It has to be flamed in brandy for my taste. I’m 70 now and I think I will get everything I need and surprise my wife and ggkids.5 stars

  5. My son (17) loves to make Saganaki. He has become the house specialist in frying and then adding lemon juice to it. As I read your article, though, I laughed because the first time I had Saganaki was at the Parthenon in Chicago. I was in college and visiting my niece who is Greek. We had flaming Saganaki with the OPA included by the waiter. At that time it seemed so grown up and special. I’ve never had it flaming since.

  6. Dear Elena, Saganaki is a regular staple for summer lunches with a tomato salad. I probably make it once a week, it’s so easy and so good. But I have found that the cheese has to be cold, right out of the fridge or it doesn’t slice properly or cook right.