This Genius Creamed Spinach Has No Cream (but Yes, Jalapeños)

December 23, 2015

When you think of creamed spinach, I'd bet you think only briefly of spinach, and more palpably about the cream wrapping every leaf like a thick fur coat. What you imagine probably doesn't taste much like spinach, or much like anything.

It's a nice side. Delicious! But, frankly, a little low on personality. I'm not sure how creamed spinach found its place as a go-to buddy for beef, but both deserve better.

Laurie Colwin's now-famous recipe hops away from the usual steakhouse bellyweight in a number of important ways. As she tells it in Home Cooking, she altered her version a bit from one served to her in Dallas during a literary festival by a cook named Betty Josey. "It was so good it made me want to sit up and beg like a dog," Colwin wrote, and a generation of bloggers was stirred to make it.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

First off, Colwin calls for two packages of frozen spinach, which means you won't need to shuffle an ungodly amount of fresh spinach from blanching pot to strainer to tea towel, wringing it all by hand. You'll also be able to jam a whole lot more spinach in, without the risk of waterlogging the casserole. (Don't try to get fancy here—many clamshells of fresh spinach later, you'll regret it.)

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Instead of cream, the glue that holds the frozen spinach together is a mix of the spinach cooking liquid and canned evaporated milk, slightly thickened with a basic butter and flour roux, plus Monterey Jack cheese, which Colwin has you cube instead of shred. This changes the game for people who hate shredding—I may never do it again!

Photo by Mark Weinberg

All of these flow together, carrying flavor more nimbly than cream, especially once you add in the not-secret but surprising ingredient: jalapeños, pickled or fresh—"(how many is a question of taste as well as what kind. I myself use the pickled kind, from a jar)," Colwin wrote. I liked fresh best (only barely), but both give it a feisty Southwestern tilt that makes the spinach and everything around it taste wilder, fuller, and nothing like cream.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

You might be thinking this sounds a little like spinach artichoke dip and, yes, it would be very good smeared on a cracker or piece of baguette. But the density of spinach makes it meatier, so that the next day it's an even better main dish, with a fried egg on top. You can't do that with dip.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Season and perishability have no bearing on the outcome of this recipe—you could probably buy the ingredients for this a month ahead and you'd be fine. This is a special comfort in the winter, when you want to shop only on the strangely sunny days, not the normal, wintry ones.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

That said, if you don't have one thing, you can make do—you don't want to keep cans of evaporated milk around just to use 1/2 cup in this recipe, any mix of cream and milk will work; you want to use Gruyère, great; you don't have celery salt, fine.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

But the frozen spinach and jalapeños need to stay.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Lukas Volger and Emily Gould for this one!

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  • Arousing Appetites
    Arousing Appetites
  • Mr. Mike
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  • Kim
  • Bkilmer
  • rosepetalfarm
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Arousing A. November 16, 2016
This recipe looks amazing. Could you swap coconut milk in for the evaporated milk? If so, would you need to change the quantity/volume?
Arousing A. November 16, 2016
This recipe looks amazing. Could you swap coconut milk in for the evaporated milk? If so, would you need to change the quantity/volume?
Mr. M. May 25, 2016
Question: I would normally have no problem using frozen spinach, but I have a TON of fresh spinach in the fridge I need to use up. I don't normally serve it cooked, unless I add it to a soup or stew, rough chopped. Could I cook the raw, fresh spinach and weigh out 20 ounces, then squeeze the liquid out? That would work, right? What do you think?
Kim January 26, 2016
This was one of the best things I have ever made. Sooooo good!
Bkilmer January 24, 2016
Sounds delicious, but any suggestions for thickener besides flour for those with celiac disease (gluten intolerance)?
rosepetalfarm January 5, 2016
Not to be a downer, but this recipe is really Spinach Madeline. It was first published in 1950, in River Road recipes from Baton Rouge LA. It's one of the longest running Jr league cookbooks still in print.

This dish does freeze well, and leftovers are great in an omelet or veggie burrito. It's also good with corn chips. I usually make mine with cream cheese and jarred jalapeños.
Jan M. February 4, 2016
Yes, this has been a staple on Southern tables for years. I love it.
RRosebud January 4, 2016
I've been making this for years. I make it even simpler by using Pepper Jack cheese instead of the fresh or pickled jalapenos.
Jack December 31, 2015
Looks fascinating, but can anyone suggest what to serve it with ? I am vegetarian, and much as i love the "put an egg on it" trick. It can get a bit predictable for my family and would love some other ideas?
Many thanks!
Sharon H. December 31, 2015
Hi Jack - you could have it with/on rice or pasta. Or roasted potatoes with rosemary and a salad!
Niknud December 28, 2015
This recipe was hands down, the biggest hit this year. Wow. I mean, wow. We had it with just butchered rib-eyes and homemade mac n cheese for a laid back xmas dinner with my dad who just came in from Hong Kong where he doesn't get a lot of good beef and classic American food. Oh, and the leftover steak and spinach omelets the next morning were pretty spot on as well.....
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 28, 2015
Sharon H. December 27, 2015
I'm going to try it (with cream) and some other cheese - and maybe use one jalapeno? Odd that the editors have not added to the recipe, but it is all good.
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 27, 2015
I've updated the recipe with more details about the jalapeño—sorry about that!
mtully December 27, 2015
I wondered about the jalapeños too. She mentions them in Step 4, so I'm giving a pass . . . ;-)
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 27, 2015
Thanks mtully—just updated the recipe with more detail.
caroline0ne December 27, 2015
Jalapeños a must use. Why are they not in the recipe.
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 27, 2015
I'm sorry for the oversight—I just updated the recipe with more details about the jalapeño.
mtully December 27, 2015
Looks great. I happened upon cubing cheese earlier this year when making pizza. I thought, "What would happen if I cubed this sheese?" Easy and delicious is what happened. It really is a bit of a game-changer.
Nozlee S. December 23, 2015
Yesssssss this dish!!
Dani S. December 23, 2015
pureeing cauliflower is another recommendation to make creamless spinach and much healthier!
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 23, 2015
Thank you Dani! I'm sorry for the inappropriate comments that were posted here—we've removed them.
Sarah J. December 23, 2015
This is my new favorite food.