Monday, July 23, 2012

Fried Feta Cheese with Fig and Brandy Jam—Opa!

Saganaki—it sounds to me like some kind of sushi, but it’s Greek. Meaning, “little frying pan,” saganaki refers to a number of Greek dishes that are cooked in just that. Among all different kinds, there’s shrimp saganaki and sausage saganaki, but the most popular—and it’s not hard to see why—is cheese saganaki. Oh yes, it’s fried cheese, and I’m not talking mozzarella sticks.

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.

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!

Cheese Saganaki
Yield: 2 Servings
- 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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angela@spinachtiger said...

This looks delicious. I almost fried some feta myself. The fig brandy jam is so nice, glad you finally got it right.

Faith said...

Saganaki has to be my #1 favorite Greek dish, and I love your take on it using feta cheese! That jam sounds like the perfect pairing, thanks for perfecting the recipe and sharing it with us!

Trix said...

Saganaki was the first Greek dish I ever had! And so of course I have a soft spot for it (and as you say, it's fried cheese. What could be wrong with that?) Very cool paired with the jam!

Shannon said...

fried cheese is of course a wonderful thing :) that fig brandy jam sounds absolutely perfect, too!

Cheap Ethnic Eatz said...

Ah you are my Saganaki sister in the 5 star :-) I was looking forward to seeing this dish. I love it flambe with a bit of ouzo. Your jam sounds fabulous, glad you kept at it.

RavieNomNoms said...

WOW does that look good! I wouldn't be able to stop eating that!

Tanantha said...

who doesn't like fried cheese?! I agree, tho, saganaki sounds like sushi. haha. Trial and error are the fun in the kitchen and I love your fig jam!

Natasha Price said...

I adore cheese saganaki and how delicious it must be served with fig and brandy jam, yum!

Victoria said...

Cheese saganaki is probably my favorite thing to get when I go out for Greek food. My friends judge the best saganaki by how bit the fire is, lol. I love your fig and brandy jam too, a great addition to a classic.

Angie's Recipes said...

This is totally cool!

Cajunsmoke13 said...

What an awesome looking dish. I have to make it. Thanks for posting the recipe.

Priscilla @ShesCookin said...

What could be better than fried cheese - specially when its flaming (my first experience with saganaki)! The fig and brandy jam pairing is perfect :)

lostpastremembered said...

Ha! I love stories of trials and tribulations with recipes. We have all been through them... often with things that seemed like and easy idea when you came up with it! I think it's true though... once you master a disaster you have that feeling of pride of accomplishment... everytime you make it after that you remember you beat the food devil and won.

I've never made saganaki... how could I not? What's not to love with fried cheese. No wonder those Greeks helped begin western civilization with food like this!

Great makeover, wonderful recipe~

Magic of Spice said...

I am in love with this jam! And I adore feta in any for, so this is going on my dinner menu! So delicious!

Joan Nova said...

Delish!! Love the idea of the fig and brandy jam.

Lori Lynn said...

Fried cheese and fig jam sound like a heavenly combination. Like that there is brandy in the jam too!
Great makeover!