Saganaki is a two-handled shallow skillet with a rounded perimeter, and any food cooked in it takes on its name. So, saganaki as a recipe includes many things. It can be a bubbling shrimp or mussel dish with spicy tomato sauce and melted cheese; it can be one of many flour-dusted panfried cheeses, too. This recipe is a take on the fried-cheese tradition, and one that began to make its way onto Athenian menus in the late 1990s. I like the contrast in textures, the crunchiness and subtle flavor of the sesame seeds next to the intenseness and softness of the feta as it is heated.
1/4 pound hard Greek feta or telemes cheese, aged in tins, not barrels
1 large egg
1 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil for sautéing
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
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The feta should be a rectangular, not triangular, piece. Cut it into four 1/2-inch slices and cut each slice into quarters to get bite-sized rectangles.
Beat the egg lightly in a shallow bowl. Spread the sesame seeds onto a large plate. Dip the cheese in the egg and then in the sesame seeds. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy, nonstick skillet. Place about 6 of the cheese pieces in the skillet, and sauté over medium-high heat. As soon as the feta begins to soften, flip it over to brown on the other side. Remove and serve hot. Repeat with the remaining feta and sesame seeds.