Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Saganaki

There are dishes that you aspire to cook, dishes that intimidate or unnerve you and then there are other dishes, those that effortlessly happen in your kitchen. They come together easily, unassumingly, they ooze comfort and smell and feel like home.

It's the kind of food that is cooked for and meant to be shared by family and friends. It is food prepared on a whim, when you're all sitting at the backyard on an early spring evening and you suddenly realize everyone's hungry and you could use something to eat.

Fresh soutzouki

It is familiar food that your mom would cook, food over which fights would start once upon a time at the dinner table between you and your brother, when you'd fight over the last bite. This is one of those dishes.

This is Politiko Saganaki; a dish that is the epitome of my family's comfort food. Politiko refers to the type of Greek cuisine I grew up with (of which you can read all about here) and the saganaki, well, if you don't know what saganaki is then I'm your girl.

Anyone who is familiar with Greek food knows saganaki. The word saganaki (σαγανάκι in Greek) is a diminutive of sagani (σαγάνι) which means two-handled frying pan or dish so, essentially, saganaki is a small round frying pan. Saganaki also refers to a number of dishes in Greek cuisine that are cooked in this type of pan.

And now that we've gotten over with the formalities and definitions of the word, let's get down to business. Saganaki is simply awesome fare. It is a traditional mezes and one of the ultimate types of food that all Greeks love. Saganaki dishes are always present in any large Greek feast or intimate gathering and are served at the table directly in the pan, with a side of good wine, beer or ouzo. Since the saganaki is a small pan, the portions are rather small, usually one or two servings.

Most people are under the misconception that saganaki is fried Greek cheese but, even though fried cheese like kefalograviera, kefalotyri or feta is a saganaki dish (and among the best ones of the kind), it is not the only such dish there is. There's garides (shrimps) saganaki made with whole shrimps, tomato and feta cheese, mydia (mussels) saganaki, and different vegetables or meat saganaki, in which case the limit is only your imagination.
Oh, and something else, saganaki is not a flambé dish. Just setting the record straight.

And then we have my kind of saganaki, the Politiko Saganaki. At first glance, this may seem like just a dish of fried eggs and sausage. No, it's far more than that. There are juicy tomato slices hidden underneath the eggs, sizzling in the clarified butter. There's crumbled feta on top and hot red pepper. But the secret of all this, is the sausage, which is not an ordinary one. It's soutzouki*; a thick, fresh, spicy and hot beef sausage that is traditional in Politiki cuisine and is what makes this dish extraordinary.

Fresh soutzouki

The flavor of the soutzouki is deep and unique. It has a spicy quality that slightly burns the tip of your tongue as you savor it and along with the creamy eggs, salty feta and fresh tomato, you have the quintessential Greek fried saganaki. A dish you should try simply because it will be one of the best Greek dishes you will ever have.

*Not to be confused with soutzoukos, which is a Greek sweet made with grape-must and almonds.

Politiko Saganaki (Greek Saganaki with Eggs, Tomato, Feta and Soutzouki)

Not all Greeks are familiar with soutzouki—it is a fresh sausage used predominantly in Politiki cuisine—and many are not used to its spiciness and piquant flavor. It contains cumin, sumac and hot ground pepper and is usually made with beef although you can find some that are made with pork. It's fairly fatty and you can add it not only to this saganaki but also to pizzas and sandwiches.

It is really worth the effort of tracking down soutzouki. The dish will not be the same without it and you'll be missing out on a good thing. You can try it at Greek, Armenian, Lebanese or Turkish food stores. I can't really suggest a substitute for it because there's nothing else like it but you can try a hot and spicy beef sausage of your choice. What I can suggest though, if you're living in Athens, Greece or even if you're just visiting, is that you go to the store* that sells the best soutzouki and pastourma in the world. The store that has been in the same location for more than 50 years and from which my grandfather used to buy his soutzouki since the '60s.

You can either use clarified butter** or vegetable oil in this dish but I would strongly suggest you use clarified butter. Even though it's not the healthiest thing out there (who are we kidding, this dish is not a health conscious dish but we can still be friends, right?), it is the best choice for this saganaki.

Yield: 2 servings

3 Tbsp clarified butter (or olive oil)
3 slices of fresh soutzouki, thickly sliced (casing removed)
4-5 tomato slices, thinly sliced
3 large fresh eggs
50 g feta cheese
Boukovo (Greek hot red pepper) or cayenne pepper, ground

Special equipment: saganaki (small, round frying pan with two handles) or small frying pan

Heat the clarified butter (or olive oil) in the saganaki or other small frying pan, over medium heat and when it starts to shimmer, add the soutzouki slices. Brown them on both sides (they will brown very quickly because the soutzouki is a fresh sausage, it will take about 20 seconds per side).

Take the soutzouki slices out of the pan and add the tomato slices. Sauté them for 1 minute until they soften a bit, carefully crack the eggs on top and arrange the soutzouki slices between them. Fry the eggs over medium heat to your liking.

Turn the heat off and crumble the feta cheese on top. Season with a little salt (keep in mind that soutzouki is fairly salty) and boukovo or cayenne pepper.

Serve immediately, directly in the saganaki.

*The name of the store is "Ο Γιώργος" (O Giorgos) and the address is
Δ. Γούναρη 21-23, στοά Πολίτου, Πειραιάς (D. Gounari 21-23, stoa Politou, Piraeus)

**Clarified butter is butter from which the milk solids and moisture have been removed. What remains is pure butterfat. Clarified butter can be heated to higher temperatures than regular oil. If you want to make your own clarified butter, you can follow David Lebovitz's superb recipe.


  1. Wow this dish looks amazing! I love every bit of it, and it's no surprise it's all gone!

  2. Telio piato...the dish of dish my uncle would make me for dinner. It's 10PM, Thessaloniki in September and we'd have loukanika with avga.

  3. What a gorgeous, simple, comforting recipe. Soutzouki, especially, looks delicious!

  4. The second option - i.e. the comforting foods are the ones I like best. My husband's Grandparents were Greek and I've learned a few dishes through my Mother-in-Law but I had not heard of saganaki or the very appealling soutzouki. Thanks for a really interesting piece.

  5. Oh my, this looks so delicious and now you've got me drooling over saganaki in all forms, especially the idea of one with shrimps and feta. Such a beautiful serving dish and with the large Turkish population here in Berlin, I really hope I can find myself one.

  6. I love that there are hidden pieces of tomato underneath the eggy exterior. I have a feeling that I would adore this breakfast! :D

  7. When I saw the name, I thought this was going to be a Japanese dish! To my ignorant ears it sounds Japanese!! Anyway it looks divine. Clarified butter is actually a health food! A nutritionist recommended it to me recently. And if the Greeks eat it, it must be because you guys have a world renowned healthy diet :)

  8. Those eggs look perfectly cooked to eat with lots of bread!!

  9. The sausage looks incredible, especially after it has been fried up. I love it when you make a typical Greek dish that I know nothing about. It is like discovering a whole new world. Thanks!

  10. Yum! Thanks for the tutorial too; here again, I notice similarities with our Lebanese traditions: except the plate is usually in clay and the sausage is called makanek or sujuk (for the Armenian branch of the Lebanese); love this dish, it is a meal in itself!

  11. Magda - this looks amazing. And, naturally, I have been looking all morning on the Internet for a recipe to make my own soutzouki - the only recipes are for a grape nut soutzouki! Any ideas how to do a homemade version? Should I just try with some cumin, sumac and hot pepper flakes? Are there other ingredients? I am also goingto check with our local Greek church and see if they have any ideas where to buy it... Thanks for another visual and gastronomic treat! David

  12. Belinda, Peter, Nisrine — thanks!

    Sally — strange that you haven't heard of it from your in-laws. It is an extremely popular and traditional Greek dish. Soutzouki is indeed very appealing.

    Emily — you can definitely track down a similar serving dish in Berlin, I'm sure.

    Lorraine — it would make a great breakfast dish, but the soutzouki is rather heavy for breakfast. Greeks actually would never eat this in the morning.

    Nicole — haha many people make the same mistake. The ending -aki in most Greek words denotes something small. I would say that olive oil, which is most commonly used in Greek cuisine is healthier but we are allowed to be naughty sometimes, aren't we?

    Ivy — we are in total agreement :)

    Nuts about food — you're so welcome!

    Joumana — yes, there are indeed so many similarities between our food cultures.

    David — the recipe you found is for "soutzoukos" a Greek dessert, not the soutzouki sausage :) Nobody actually makes their own soutzouki in Greece so it is hard for me to tell you how to prepare it. Try those spices I mention just before the recipe plus some dried garlic, ground black pepper, lots of salt and fatty finely minced beef. I believe there are other spices in it as well but I don't know which ones exactly.

  13. This is amazing. So simple, but so satisfying.

  14. Hi Magda---like Nichole, the name first registered as Japanese to me! Hearty and comforting, no doubt. It could be tricky to find that sausage in my area; I must visit Greece someday, and experience the Politiko cuisine first-hand. I really like that double-handled skillet, too.

  15. I've never had this before, but just from looking at photos, I feel I can already confidently say this is my ideal comfort food, too. It looks amazing!


  16. Thanks for describing the dish. It looks wonderful. I especially like the last image. I'd love to share this dish with my dad. I have the feeling he'd be a big fan. Now, where to find soutzouki.

  17. i love your words, true comfort food..brothers and sisters fighting for the last piece, I love it!! my hubby would love this!! a perfect sunday treat!

  18. Tracy — absolutely

    Nancy — hi! Yes, I suppose it will be kind of tricky to find the soutzouki but you can look for it. It's worth a try. And yes, you must definitely visit Greece :)

    Sues — thank you

    Denise — men seem to like this dish. correction: love this dish!

    sweetlife — thank you

  19. Oh, what a neat arrangement! Very pretty way of presenting eggs.

  20. This is my kind of rustic dish! I could easily eat this every day. Looks and sounds delicious Magda!

  21. That is a big amount of eggs nicely presented. I am sure they taste good,

  22. Q) If this is 2 servings who gets the two pieces of sausage and the two eggs?
    A) The faster diner, of course.

  23. v.j. — hahaha In this house that's usually my boyfriend!

  24. beautiful - we buy a local variety made in crete - i love this kind of food, even if i can only have it only occassionally!

  25. Amazing dish Magda. Μερακλίδικο. Congratulations!

  26. Omg. I've been looking for this sausage my whole adult life. I grew up eating thisas a child in Greece. Does anyone know how I can get some in the states ?