Thursday, September 17, 2009

Saganaki: It's from Chicago and not Greece!

It's not from Greece! What a surprise! Saganaki, flaming cheese, is not a traditional Greek appetizer. It's American from Chicago.

My nephew Bob who lives in the Windy City called me with the news. He saw a report on Chicago television and knew I'd be interested. He even took notes.

It seems the well known appetizer was created by two Greek-American restaurateurs, brothers Chris and Bill Liakouras, co-owners of Chicago's Parthenon Greek restaurant on S. Halsted Street.

Before July 5th, 1968, saganaki was just fried cheese. Today, 31 years later, the brothers' flaming cheese creation can be found in restaurants around the world, even in Greece!

Now that I know flaming cheese is a flaming phony, I am not too concerned with the recipe. I once worried about the liquor I used to flame the cheese. No more. There is no tradition stretching back generations.

The main ingredient for making flaming cheese is, no surprise, cheese. This is usually kasseri or kefalotiri, both sheep's milk cheeses which resist melting when heated.

Dip the cheese slices in an egg wash, then lightly coat each slice with flour, and finally fry the slices in a small pan for a couple of minutes, flipping once.

While the cheese is frying heat two tablespoons of Ouzo for 15 seconds in the microwave on high. When the cheese is done add the warmed Ouzo and light using a barbecue lighter --- the kind with a flame at the end of a long tube. Do not use a short match or small lighter. Be careful. The flames may flare a foot or more above the pan.

Squelch the sputtering fire with juice squeezed from half a lemon and serve with crusty French bread and a dry white wine.

I like using Ouzo rather than brandy as it gives the flaming cheese a gentle hint of licorice. But the choice of liquor is up to you; remember, you are not constrained by tradition.

One last thing: when you flame the cheese, don't forget to shout, "Opaah!" No idea why, it's, uh, tradition.

  • 2 slices of kasseri or kefalotiri cheese
  • egg wash made with one egg
  • a little flour
  • olive oil to well coat bottom of small frying pan
  • 1 tablepoon butter
  • half a lemon
  • 2- tablespoons Ouzo or brandy
I have found that the kefalotiri holds up better than the kasseri when fried. But, the kasseri had more flavour and it went well with the licorice flavour of the Ouzo. Just watch it carefully if using kasseri, or it will turn into a puddle of melted cheese.

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