Creamed spinach is a method of preparing the dark leafy green in which cooked spinach is combined with a cream sauce, some spices and usually aromatics such as garlic and onion. The result is a very rich dish that can be served alongside robust entrees such as steak or grilled foods, or served on its own. There are two basic ways to create creamed spinach, with the first relying on reducing heavy cream in a pan until it is thick. The second method is a little more time consuming but involves creating a simple roux and then slowly forming a cream sauce by adding milk. It is not uncommon to find additional ingredients — such as crisp bacon, nutmeg, mushrooms, grated cheese and cloves — in creamed spinach.
The preparation of creamed spinach usually begins by cooking the actual spinach. The spinach can be cooked in any number of ways and can be used from a frozen state if it is defrosted first. What is essential, however, is that the spinach is fully cooked and very dry. This can be achieved by allowing the spinach to sit in a colander to drain for some time, or by pressing it through cheesecloth or a towel until all the water has been released.
For a simple and convenient version of creamed spinach, ingredients such as onions and garlic or shallots are chopped finely and browned in a pan with butter or olive oil. The cooked and dried spinach then is added to the pan and allowed to heat up and take on some of the aromatic flavors of the onions and garlic. Heavy cream is poured into the pan, along with spices such as black pepper, nutmeg and, sometimes, bay leaf. The entire creamy mixture then is allowed to cook until the heavy cream has reduced by at least half, after which the creamed spinach is ready to serve.
One preparation that results in creamed spinach that has a richer, creamier texture starts by melting butter and flour together in a pan, forming a roux. The roux is allowed to brown just slightly, after which any additional ingredients are added and allowed to cook. Milk is slowly incorporated into the roux until it has reached the desired consistency. The spinach then is added to the sauce and heated through to complete the dish.
Creamed spinach is made with dark leafy greens, so nutmeg commonly is added as a spice, as are cloves in some instances. Fried, crisp pieces of bacon can be added, as can sauteed mushrooms. Once completed, the spinach is best served hot and can be topped with grated Parmesan cheese or tossed with red pepper flakes.