Saganaki (Greek σαγανάκι) refers to various Greek dishes prepared in a small frying pan, itself called a saganaki, the best-known being an appetiser of fried cheese.
The cheese used in cheese saganaki is usually Graviera, Kefalograviera, Halloumi, Kasseri, Kefalotyri, or sheep’s milk Feta cheese. Regional variations include the use of formaella cheese in Arachova and halloumi cheese in Cyprus. The cheese is melted in a small frying pan until it is bubbling and generally served with lemon juice and pepper. It is eaten with bread.
Other dishes cooked in a saganaki pan include Shrimp Saganaki (Greek: γαρίδες σαγανάκι, garídes saganáki), and Mussels Saganaki (Greek: μύδια σαγανάκι, mýdia saganáki), which are typically feta-based and include a spicy tomato sauce.
In many United States and Canadian restaurants, after being fried, the saganaki cheese is flambéed at the table (sometimes with a shout of “opa!”), and the flames then extinguished with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. This is called “flaming saganaki” and apparently originated in 1968 at The Parthenon restaurant in Chicago’s Greektown, based on the suggestion of a customer to owner Chris Liakouras.
A sagani is a two-handled pan or dish used when cooking saganaki dishes that take their name from the pan. Saganaki means “small sagani.” When used in the oven, these pans can be made of almost any material, and when the recipe calls for stove-top preparation, the pans are usually cast iron, or other stove-top-safe material.
Saganaki dishes are generally served at the table directly in the pan, and because they are small, servings are usually for one or two only.
In the market, look for small paella pans, small au gratin dishes, or small cast iron skillets if a traditional sagani can’t be found.
The fried-cheese saganaki is common throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly in areas that have traditionally had a large Greek population. In Egypt, جبنة مقلية (gibnah maqlyah; lit. “fried cheese”) prepared in the same fashion is a common appetiser and seen as a specialty of Alexandria.
- 225 g kefalotyri cheese or any hard, yellow Greek cheese, even feta and haloumi cheese.
- warm water
- all-purpose flour, as needed
- pepper, to taste (optional)
- ¼ cup olive oil or butter
- 2 lemon wedges, for garnish
- Cut the cheese into a square, about 10 x 10 cm and 3-4 cm thick
- Dip the cheese in a bowl of warm water.
- Dredge the cheese in flour (seasoned with pepper, if desired) on both sides. Dip in warm water again.
- Heat olive oil or butter over medium heat almost to the smoking point and add the cheese. Flip to pan-fry on the other side as well, until golden brown.
- Serve hot with lemon wedges on the side.