A side dish of chopped fresh spinach in a rich, creamy sauce ranks up there alongside a crisp wedge of iceberg lettuce drizzled in blue cheese dressing as the most iconic of steakhouse accompaniments.
ELEMENTS OF DISTRESS
It doesn’t take much for creamed spinach to take a sharp turn for the worst and turn into spinach not even Popeye could love: unrecognizably gray, irredeemably pasty, and distastefully stringy.
PLAN OF ATTACK
We’d restore this steakhouse staple to its former glory by lightening its sauce, troubleshooting its texture, and better showcasing natural spinach flavor.
Typical renditions of creamed spinach start with a pasty roux to which cream and cheese are added. To contribute some depth to otherwise insipid spinach, we started by sautéing onion and garlic in butter before stirring in flour.
While heavy cream is par for the course—they call it “creamed” for a reason, right?—it sure makes for a leaden sauce. Substituting whole milk for cream not only lightened up the sullen spinach, it also brought the taste of leafy green goodness front and center.
Next, we needed a way to combat soupiness: cooking the spinach directly in the sauce gave off way too much moisture. Microwaving such a large volume of spinach was out of the question, but quickly sautéing the greens in a large Dutch oven prior to building the sauce proved key. To remove excess liquid, we drained the spinach and squeezed out as much water as possible.
To sidestep undesirable stringiness, we finely chopped the spinach. Now that we had the ideal consistency, we dressed the dish up with some Italian accessories: chopped prosciutto, fresh sage, a pinch of nutmeg, and Parmesan cheese (but—sorry Popeye—no olive oil).
Finally, creamed spinach that packs the punch of its namesake.