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.
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 in Greektown in Chicago in the late 60’s, and since then has been a fixture in most Greek restaurants. When you order this flaming cheese, the waiter will pour some brandy or ouzo and set it on fire and yell “OPA”, which is an exclamation to express surprise, admiration or wonder, 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.
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.
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.
Saganaki - Greek Fried Cheese
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 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
- 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.
SAVE FOR LATER AND PIN IT!
Photos by Elena Paravantes © All Rights Reserved