What do eggnog and creamed spinach have in common? According to Top Chef alum Richard Blais, the festive combo is perfect for giving a traditional holiday side dish a unique twist.
"It makes sense and here's why," Blais tells Yahoo Life. "Eggnog usually is seasoned with nutmeg or winter spices and when I make creamed spinach without eggnog, it's pretty heavy on the nutmeg. Creamed spinach obviously also has cream in it, so it's almost like a hack to making creamed spinach without going through the process of making a roux and finding the winter spices you might put in it."
When I saw Blais' Instagram post sharing the recipe, I was admittedly nervous about combining two flavors that I had kept separate in my brain for more than 40 years. After speaking with the chef, however, I decided to give the recipe a try in my own kitchen.
The ingredients are simple: store-bought eggnog, heavy cream, pecorino romano cheese, butter, onion and spinach. Blais says his number one tip for recreating the dish is not to skimp on those leafy greens.
"As with any spinach dish, you need so much more than you think," he says. "It's going to take a couple of bags of spinach to feed a couple of people. And, you want minced spinach which you can do with a knife, but it's going to be easier if you use a food processor."
With my spinach finely chopped, I set to following Blais's recipe: sauteing an onion in butter, combining eggnog and heavy cream and letting the whole mixture simmer and thicken on my stovetop before adding the cheese. The result was ... delicious.
"Depending on the eggnog you're using, you want to have a cook's instincts to make sure it's not too sweet," Blais warns, "meaning cutting it with some other dairy or using lots of spinach or just a little bit of the eggnog. You're going to get some sweetness from the eggnog, which can be the challenging thing with this recipe, but you'll also be asking, is it creamed spinach? Is it saag paneer? It almost has a bit of an Indian vibe and it's one of my favorites."
Indian food is one of my favorites, and Blais was spot on with his description of the flavors in the dish. The nutmeg-tinged creamy spinach concoction would taste as delicious served with prime rib for Christmas dinner as it would over rice with a side of samosas.
For those avoiding dairy, Blais shares another favorite way to prepare creamed spinach, straight from the menu of Ember and Rye, his Carlsbad, Calif. restaurant.
"Parsnip puree," Blais says. "Parsnips for me have this sort of wintery spice vibe. They also replace the dairy. I try to be as health-minded as I can — when you use parsnip puree or celery root puree or cauliflower puree, it's a nice way to remove all or most of the dairy."
Blais recently opened another restaurant in Orlando, Fla., Four Flamingos, where, like with his eggnog creamed spinach recipe, he enjoys thinking of creative ways to use ingredients for purposes his guests may not have considered. The menu includes oysters with frozen hibiscus hot sauce pearls, for example, something Blais says adds to a standard seafood dish in an interesting way.
"Hot sauce is pretty traditional to have with oysters, but adding hibiscus to the hot sauce makes it a little bit more regional, local and thematic," he says. "We have a swordfish dish that features black lime with black pepper and garlic — it's really just a riff off lemon pepper anything. Instead of using lemon, we're using black lime because the flavor is more deep and earthy."
When adding spice — nutmeg — or otherwise, to a traditional dish, Blais says to think about ways to change up textures or flavors to create something different. When you do, after all, you just may create a new family favorite.
"My kids loved the eggnog creamed spinach because of the little bit of sugar in it," he says. "They usually would not eat creamed spinach but they loved eggnog creamed spinach, so believe it. I will say, believe it."
Video: How to make Richard Blais' corn crème brulée
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