Saganaki, not Nagasaki

NOTE, if you try this at home, don’t go blaming me if your kitchen ends up looking like this. You should always have a friendly fire marshall at ready with an extinguisher. Roommates are good for this.

So, I’ve been trying to figure out how to properly make saganaki: that cheese they light on fire in Greek restaurants whilst yelling, “OPA!” You’ve either seen it before or you haven’t; I won’t try to convey how rad it is. If you are like me, one of yr first memories is going to Greektown in Detroit with yr pops after the auto show and eating strange delicacies (for a Midwestern boy) such as octopus and baklava (not balacava)…but really you don’t give a damn about the auto show, or the baklava for that matter, you just want to see that whoosh of burning cognac. Ok, the octupus was cool too.

Of course another early memory was my mother trying this at home (outdoors, thankfully) and going eyebrowless for the next couple of weeks.

I’ve been trying to pull this OPA! thing off for years with no success. It finally worked pretty well tonite, but it could still be better, so lemme know if you have any tips.

1. Get 2/3 lb of Kasseri cheese. This is a sheep/goat cheese that I find rather inedible in its raw state, especially the full strength authentic stuff. Slice into 1 inch strips to increase surface area. Also get 1/2 lemon and some pita or crusty white bread. Also, black pepper and cornstarch if you want.
2. Get some cheap cognac, highest proof possible. I can never find anything over 80 proof, myself, but it seems to work OK. Be careful with higher proofs, I believe 100 proof = flammable at room temperature. We are heating things up, so that means more alcohol evaporating and more OPA.
3. Get a cast iron plate or pan for broiling said cheese, twice as big as you think you need. Gives you more surface area for the cognac.
4. Preheat the oven to broil.
5. Butter pan and cheese strips with 2 tbs softened butter, roll cheese in a little black pepper and cornstarch if you like, then put ~6 inches under the heating element. Leave for 5 minutes or until cheese bubbles and starts to brown. Pour a shot glass of cognac and set on top of the stove to get a little warm. Warm bread if you want.
7. Remove cognac and pan to fire safe location, make sure you have good oven mitts and one of those long matches/lighters for an outdoor grill. Pour in cognac and give pan some quick shakes (don’t spill shit, tho). Light it and yell OPA!…if it works, otherwise you look like a goddamn fool.
8. Let the cognac burn down and quench the last flames with half a lemon.
9. Eat on warmed crusty white bread or pita.

I’ve tried this on the stovetop and can never get it right. I think the hot cast iron pan/plate is neccessary to make that 80 proof cognac truly dangerous. I hear that marinating the cheese in cognac overnight helps too…never tried that tho.

Anyway, if I really figure this out, I will feature it prominently during the upcoming barbecue season.


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