Cheese saganaki is a traditional Greek meze, or small plate. Similar to Spanish tapas or Italian cicchetti, meze can be served like appetizers before a big meal or with a table full of other meze to be shared with friends and family for a social eating experience that is entirely its own. Though I often dream of enjoying many meze on a cliff side of Santorini, my only experience with them so far has been making Zucchini Feta Fritters. Meze were this month’s Five Star Makeover group’s theme, and though I never even heard of it before, I chose to make saganaki. I mean, it is fried cheese.
When making saganki, it is best to use a cast-iron pan and firm cheese (preferably Greek) so that it can stand up to the high heat of frying, while also yielding a slight melt. There are many fancy options that fit this description; halloumi and feta are two of the more easily accessible. Of course, I used feta. If you read Cook’s Book often, you may have noticed that I put feta on/in almost everything. I don’t even realize that I’m doing it.
After rinsing the cheese under some cold water and simply dredging it in some seasoned flour, there is some fun showmanship that goes along with making cheese saganaki. Many restaurants that serve it will often prepare it tableside, adding brandy and a squeeze of lemon at the end and shouting “Opa!” for a flambé finale. Come on now, you know I had to do that. In addition to putting on a good show, the brandy and lemon also add nice background flavor.
I made a fig and brandy jam to dip the cheese in and it was an everliving nightmare, so I hope that you enjoy it. It took me three tries before I got it right. The first batch tasted awful, and the second batch was hard as a rock (overcooked). But, looking on the bright side it helped to make the final final result that much sweeter. Listen to me, I’m such an optimist. Bet no one in near proximity of my second batch fail would have thought that. On that note, don’t catch me when I’m in “chef mode.” You have been warned.
The jam really did come out good though. The fig and brandy flavor was a great compliment to the “Opa!” brandy added at the end of the saganaki, and was also a great contrast to the salty cheese and the lightly breaded fried coating. Bon Appétit! Or as they say in Greek, Kali Orexi!
- 1, 8 ounce firm feta cheese block, split if necessary to ½” thick thickness, halved into 2 triangles
- All Purpose flour for dredging
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ounce brandy
- ½ lemon
1) Rinse the cheese under cold water and dredge in the flour to coat.
2) Add the olive oil to a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, and heat over medium-high heat. Add a sprinkle of flour into the oil to test that it is hot enough; it should start to sizzle. Add the cheese and sear on one side until nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip and sear other side.
3) Remove the skillet from the heat and add the brandy. Carefully ignite the brandy with a lighter (shouting, “Opa!” optional.) Squeeze the lemon over the cheese. Serve with Fig and Brandy Jam.
Fig and Brandy Jam
Yield: about ½ cup
- 5 fresh figs (if black figs, peel the skin, leaving just a little for color)
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- ½ teaspoon butter
- ½ teaspoon brandy
1) Mix all of the ingredients together in a small glass bowl or measuring cup. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes to allow the figs to macerate.
2) Add the mixture to a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until thickened and slightly reduced, about 6 minutes. Transfer the jam to small bowl or jar to cool. Tastes great served as a dip with firm cheeses, especially chunks of Parmigianno Reggiano.
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