There are a few basic ways to cook spinach. You can blanch it or steam it, or you can take the fastest route and sauté it in a pan. All you need is spinach, a pan, and a pair of tongs.
Why Stovetop Cooking Is Best for Spinach
Spinach is a tender, leafy green that contains quite a lot of water. This is why I prefer the sauté method over blanching or steaming whenever a recipe calls for cooked spinach. Sautéing will cook off some of the excess water, which is really helpful in general, but especially if the spinach is being added as an ingredient to things like quiche or lasagne.
Everything You Need to Know About Cooking Spinach on the Stovetop
Wash and dry the spinach: Add the spinach to a bowl or sink full of cold water, gently swishing it around to dislodge any dirt. Do not agitate it too much, as you want the dirt to sink to the bottom of the bowl. Remove the spinach to a clean dry towel and pat it dry.
Cook in a wide frying pan with high sides: When cooking spinach, it's best to use a frying pan with high sides, although a wok also works very well. The volume of spinach will be overwhelming at first, and the high sides help to keep things contained. The wide surface area of a frying pan also helps expose as much of the spinach to heat as possible, allowing it to wilt evenly and evaporate liquid quickly.
Continue to add fresh spinach as the salted spinach cooks down: The spinach will quickly wilt, however, and become more manageable in no time. It's even possible to continue to feed the pan with handfuls of fresh spinach as it wilts and more room is created.
Cool in a single layer to avoid over cooking: Once the spinach is cooked, move it to a plate or baking sheet and use the tongs to spread it out into a single layer. This steps slows carryover cooking and prevents overcooked spinach.
Squeeze out even more moisture, if desired: If you are using the spinach in a recipe such as a quiche or as a filling, you will need to squeeze out any excess water. Once the spinach has cooled, gather it into a ball and squeeze as hard as you can. Be sure to do this standing over the sink or, if you want to save the spinach juice, into a bowl. You may have to do this in batches, or you can use a use a potato ricer if you have one.
No Oil Required
Stovetop sautéing usually calls for at least a teaspoon of oil. I do not use oil to cook spinach that will later be used in a recipe, such as for quiche or spanakopita. It's not really necessary since spinach is so full of water that it immediately begins to release liquid upon contact with the hot pan, and I find that adding extra oil here can make the final dish oily. The water protects it while it is cooking, making it unnecessary to add a cooking fat. If, however, you are cooking the spinach as a side dish, you may want to start with onions or garlic cooked in oil or butter.
Recipes with Wilted Spinach
How To Quickly Cook Spinach on the Stovetop
What You Need
Fresh spinach or baby spinach
Sauté pan with sides
Plate or tray
Potato ricer (optional)
- Wash the spinach: Add the spinach to a bowl or sink full of cold water, gently swishing it around to dislodge any dirt. Do not agitate it too much, as you want the dirt to sink to the bottom of the bowl. Remove the spinach, drain the dirty water, and repeat if necessary.
- Dry the spinach: Place the spinach on a kitchen towel and pat dry. It's not necessary to get it completely dry, but be sure to pat up as much water as possible.
- Cook the spinach: Place the sauté pan on the stove over medium heat. Add the spinach. It's OK to pile it up a bit, as it will wilt quickly, but even so, it may not all fit in at first. Using a tongs, gently toss and turn the spinach so all of the unwilted leaves make contact with the bottom of the pan.
- Continue to add spinach: As the spinach cooks down, add any remaining spinach and continue to toss. When all the spinach is completely wilted and has turned bright green, it is done.
- Remove from the pan: Remove the spinach from the pan and spread it out on a plate so the steam evaporates and it cools.
- Squeeze the spinach (optional): Once the spinach has cooled, gather it into a ball and squeeze as hard as you can. Be sure to do this standing over the sink or, if you want to save the spinach juice, into a bowl. You may have to do this in batches, or you use a use a potato ricer if you have one.
- Season the spinach (optional): If you are going to be eating the spinach on its own, season it with salt, pepper, and any aromatics (see list below).
- If you aren't going to use the spinach in a recipe and instead are planning on serving it up as a dish, you may want to season it with a pinch of salt and a splash of olive oil. A squeeze of lemon will brighten things up, or a pinch of chili flakes for heat is also nice. You can also can begin the wilting process by first sautéing onions or garlic in oil until they are nearly done. The spinach only needs a minute or so to wilt, so it can be added at the very end. Use the same method of gently turning the spinach to expose all leaves to the heat until it has wilted down completely. Do not squeeze dry.
This post has been updated — originally published March 2014.