Thursday, January 28, 2010
Long ago, in my early university days, I got by working as a server in a Greek restaurant.
Occasionally we had saganaki on the menu as an appetizer special. I appreciated the rarity of the dish, as the combination of hungry diners and leaping flames was always a dangerous mix.
One night when we didn't have saganaki on the menu, I had a customer who I'll call Mr. Important.
Mr. Important was supposedly from California and a "connoisseur" of Greek food. He pulled me aside and told me that he expected VIP service because he and his guests were "very important people" (for reasons I cannot remember). Which is probably one of the dumbest things you can say to a tired, busy server.
So while pouring wine, Mr. Important announces that his party will have saganaki to start. I inform them that we're not offering saganaki tonight. His jaw dropped and he shouted, "You don't have saganaki?! How can you NOT have saganaki?! Danny Devito will NEVER come here if you don't have saganaki!"
It took a few seconds for this to sink in. It just didn't compute. Why would he blurt out such a thing? Moreover, I'm out in the middle of podunk nowhere Washington. The odds of me serving Danny Devito were about as high as my serving a party of leprechauns or Elvis.
Of course, being me, I informed Mr. Important of this, figuring my chances of a decent tip off this party had already long since crashed and burned. Mr. Important then took the matter to our head chef (directly to the kitchen) again invoking Danny Devito. During the height of our dinner rush, no less. Which of course went over marvelously.
Ah, the joys of being a server.
I never saw Mr. Important again and naturally, Danny Devito never stopped by.
All that lengthy blogging stuff aside, saganaki is soooo good. The combination of olive oil, brandy and fresh lemon juice is bliss.
You should make it, because if you don't Danny Devito will NEVER come over to your house for dinner.
This dish is best made with kefalograviera, kasseri, or kefalotyri cheeses. I made it with kasseri (my favorite) earlier but none of the photos turned out. So I made it again today with mozzarella (no more kasseri, sorry!), which is a less expensive, easily obtainable substitution. In fact, feel free to experiment with any number of firm cheeses that can withstand pan frying without melting into a puddle.
Not So Humble Saganaki:
four 3/4" slices of kasseri cheese
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 lemon quartered
warm pita bread
Combine the flour with the pepper and a generous pinch of sea salt. Dip the cheese slices into the egg and then thoroughly coat in flour.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan until it barely begins to smoke, then add the cheese. Cook until golden brown on each side, turning once.
Place the cheese into a serving dish, pouring a little of the hot olive oil on top. Pour approximately an ounce of brandy over the cheese and ignite. Extinguish with the juice of a lemon wedge. Serve immediately with pita to mop up the delicious mixture of olive oil, brandy and lemon juice.