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Chicago Chefs' Tips for Cooking the Tastiest Spinach, Ever

Eater contributor David Hammond is a co-founder and lead moderator of LTHForum.com, has written the weekly Food Detective column and now for Splash! in the Chicago Sun-Times and he's the food columnist for the Wednesday Journal. His cable television series "You Really Should Eat This" focuses on must-try dishes in Oak Park, Illinois.

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[Photo: Homestead]

You might be surprised to learn that the character of Popeye was not conceived to market spinach to kids. That, however, is clearly the way it worked out. London's Daily Telegraph reports that kids who regularly watch Popeye cartoons eat more spinach—in fact, they eat more of ALL vegetables—than kids who don't tune into the old timey adventures of the famous sailor man.

Popeye-watchers also eat more spinach from cans. Oh well. The following comments from Chicago chefs address the preparation of fresh leaf. Toot toot.

· Centro chef Joe Farina: "Use fresh spinach and light lemon vinaigrette."

· Homestead and The Berkshire Room executive chef Chris Curren: "Sweat minced shallots and minced garlic in butter and oil; wilt spinach and hit with fresh-squeezed lemon juice, salt, and pepper."

· Little Market Brasserie executive chef Ryan Poli: "In olive oil, brown a good amount of garlic slivers – not burned but toasted. Add chili flakes and let chili infuse oil. Quickly add spinach, sauté until wilted, season with salt and splash of lemon."

· Stetson's Modern Steak + Sushi chef Kostas Chaidaropoulos: "Use fresh baby spinach, diced Spanish onions, garlic paste, fresh grated nutmeg, blend of olive oil and butter. Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper."

· Sixteen chef Thomas Lents: "A lot of people make the mistake of cooking baby spinach. While it is fine in salads, baby spinach lacks the texture and flavor of field spinach."

· Two executive chef Tom Van Lente: "For best creamed spinach, add salt, pepper, sliced garlic, lemon juice, finish with touch of cream."

· WAVE chef Greg Elliott: "For sautéed, fresh lemon juice, a touch of garlic, salt, pepper and just barely wilt. For raw, a vinaigrette, crispy pancetta or bacon, and chopped hardboiled egg."

· Filini Bar and Restaurant chef William Johnson: "Serve spinach raw because it keeps the hearty taste of it and it intensifies salads."

· prasino executive chef Jared Case: "Less is more: keep it raw with fresh citrus and nuts or just very quickly sauté with garlic and extra virgin olive."

· Takito Kitchen chef/partner David Dworshak: "Blanch and puree two fistfuls of spinach to use it as a green additive to an aioli, soups, rice and noodle dishes."

· The Florentine chef Chris Macchia: "Add a handful of greens when finishing pasta dishes for a fresh component, bright color and bitterness that balances the richness."

· Jellyfish chef Jason Im: "Bring chicken stock to a simmer, add spinach, fresh garlic, ginger and a hint of salt and cracked black pepper: a perfect accompaniment as an easy side dish!"

· Endgrain chef Enoch Simpson: "Try tatsoi, a different spinach variety that's full-flavored, with rich butteriness and a touch of mustardy heat will take any delicious spinach dish to the next level."

· bellyQ chef Bill Kim: "The key is coconut milk for creaminess and butteriness. Use fish sauce and lime juice for balance."

· Sola Restaurant chef Carol Wallack, "I love Coconut Creamed Spinach! We sauté spinach in a drop of sesame oil, a little soy and add coconut milk, salt and pepper!"

· Takashi & Slurping Turtle chef Takashi Yagihashi: "Ohitashi is one of Japan's most popular home-cooked dishes. Cook spinach for 15 seconds in boiling salt water. Remove to an ice bath; squeeze out water, cut into bite-size pieces, add bonito flakes and soy sauce."

· Jake Melnick's Corner Tap executive chef Ryan Kikkert: "Add bacon for smoke, texture and tons of flavor!"

· Storefront Company chef Bryan Moscatello: "Don't overcook. Quickly sauté until wilted but not watery."

· Cucina Paradiso chef Anthony Gambino: "Best to turn off the flame and let the heat from the frying wilt the spinach."

· HotChocolate executive chef Dennis Stover: "Spin dry and wilt with oil in hot pan; toss off-heat. Residual heat will "wilt" spinach, which will still have texture and bright green color."

· The Local Chicago executive chef Travis Strickland: "Undercook and let residual heat take care of the rest. The difference between great spinach and a brown watery mess is a matter of seconds."

· Michael Jordan's Steak House chef James O'Donnell: "Undercooked spinach trumps overcooked spinach every time."

· J. Rocco Italian Table & Bar chef Steve Chiappetti: "Honor the versatility in spinach and how the flavor plays with other ingredients: garlic, pine nuts, pecorino; curry with harissa sauce; with chicken meatballs - the opportunities are endless."

For all food, all the time, follow David on Facebook (DCHammond) and Twitter @DavidHammond

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