How To Cook Spinach

Not the often tough mature spinach with the stems that are more like green-hued tree trunks. I mean the baby spinach that is nice and tender and disappears in a matter of a few minutes of conventional cooking into an unrecognizable mess of liquid and spinach mush.

So what’s to be done with it? Nothing surprising — just a simple sauté in garlic-flavored olive oil, but with a bit of attention paid to the cooking time and temperature, and a horrendously tedious 90 seconds of stirring.  Yes, that’s it.

Start with thin-sliced garlic. Goodfellas thin. For 1/2 pound of spinach I use a large clove of fresh garlic. And trust me on the slicing part; crushing or chopping the garlic releases many more of the strong and pungent flavors of the stinking rose, but slicing keeps the garlic flavors gentle and subtle.

In a large pot, sauté the garlic over low heat in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Don’t brown the garlic: just soften it in the warming oil. Add a pinch of salt and a few turns of your pepper mill, then turn up the flame to medium and add the spinach.

Now comes the tough part. You will have to keep mixing the spinach as it warms and begins to shed some of its moisture. Constantly. Not often. Not occasionally. All the time. This will coat the spinach with the garlic-flavored oil and expose all of the leaves to the heat. After a few seconds the spinach will begin to soften. Don’t cook it too long, or it will turn to mush. I like it cooked just enough to soften the leaves but keep some snap and texture to the stems. This takes no more than a minute or so, and then take it out of the pot, or the residual heat will turn it into the mush that everyone remembers less than fondly from mom’s attempts to make us eat better.

I served this last night with a slow-grilled chicken that I spatchcocked and marinated in brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil, garlic and chopped fresh Rosemary. It was a great combination, and it took very little time. I didn’t even have to pay much attention to the chicken, because most of the cooking was over indirect heat, and I could relax with my lovely wife and a Sazerac while dinner cooked!

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