What Is Feta Saganaki?

Kali Cozyris

Feta saganaki is a Greek appetizer made of pan-seared feta cheese. It is rumored to have its origins in Turkey, and is named after the single-serve frying pan in which it is fried, called a sagani. Traditional saganaki is eaten straight out of this frying pan. In fact, all dishes prepared in saganis are referred to as “saganaki.” Feta saganaki is enjoyed with a squeeze of fresh lemon, and the Greek anise seed flavored liquor, ouzo.

Feta is one of many indigenous cheeses used in saganaka.
Feta is one of many indigenous cheeses used in saganaka.

Feta is one of many different indigenous cheeses used in saganaki. Hard cheeses work best for saganaki because they retain their shape when introduced to the intense heat required in making this dish. Kesseri, kefalograviera, and kefalotyri are some of the Greek hard cheeses found in various saganaki recipes. Dipped in an egg batter, flour and olive oil, or simply butter, the feta saganaki is placed in a sagani pan and fried until the feta cheese bubbles and the outer layer becomes crisp. An alternative to pan frying is to coat the feta cheese with butter and broil it an oven.

In North American Greek restaurants, it is popular to soak the feta cheese in brandy, flambé it, and serve it piping hot to the table with shouts of “Opa,” an expression of celebration and joy in Greek. This creates a festive and flamboyant presentation of this favorite Greek dish. Another trendy way to serve feta saganaki is in a meze setting, where a large sampling of appetizer dishes is served in four to five-course meals. A sprinkling of sesame seeds or oregano on top of the feta saganaki can be added as a finishing touch.

Traditional feta saganaki is prepared by slicing firm feta cheese into three by two inch (7.6 by 5 cm) squares that are 0.5 to one inches (1.2 to 2.5 cm) thick and then rinsed to alleviate some of the excess salt. Cutting the feta cheese into just the right size pieces is important because if they are too thick, the cheese will not melt all the way, and if they are too thin, they will disintegrate in the cooking process. The feta cheese is then coated in flour on all sides and placed into the sagani pan with olive oil, and pan seared on each side for about two to two and a half minutes. It is served in the sagani pan, with a side of fresh lemon wedges, thick slices of tomatoes, and pita or other bread.

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