Chef John Schenk is master of two things: steak and spinach. As executive chef of Strip House, he oversees six steak houses and holds the recipe for the most sensuous creamed spinach in the city.
“It’s kind of my job to taste creamed spinach everywhere I go, and I find very few that even come close to ours,” Schenk says. “I’m a very modest person, but our creamed spinach is the best out there.”
In terms of luxe Las Vegas side dishes, creamed spinach is to Strip House what mashed potatoes are to Joël Robuchon (read: it’s the stuff dreams are made of). Schenk says his version of the Southern-style side is particularly popular because it delivers an irresistible dose of palate-pleasing umami.
“Between the mushrooms, the truffle juice, truffle oil and the Parmesan, you have that umami thing going on, which really excites your palate,” he says. “It has the nature of spinach, the nature of truffle—it has a lot going on. It’s a luxurious version of it.” The chef gives most of the credit to house-made truffle butter, which is a prevailing ingredient of his no-longer-secret recipe.
“You can turn anything into cuisine with a little truffle butter,” Schenk says, noting that neutral flavors such as spinach, potatoes, pasta, cauliflower and squash work particularly well. “Carrots would be a little too sweet,” he warns, but corn is an exception.
“When you have truffle butter in your pantry, it becomes an easy go-to,” he says. “Spaghetti, truffle butter, Parmesan cheese—done.” He recommends freezing truffle butter in two-ounce containers, then using as needed.
While high-end ingredients such as truffles and truffle oil intimidate many home cooks, Schenk says there’s no reason to fear.
“You’ve got to know where to use it,” he says. “It’s really a flavoring oil; you’re not going to cook with it. You’re really going to put it on just before you’re serving it, where you want that smell really coming through.”
He uses canned truffles instead of fresh (“If they were fresh, none of us could afford that,” he says), and uses truffle oil as an accent.
“Some people use it too much, and you’ve got to know where to use it,” he says. And, as always, less is more.
Photo by Anthony Mair
Strip House general manager Dave Gonzales doesn’t have to look far for the ideal pairing as Strip House’s own 2007 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($80), as it is produced by III Somms and winemaker Sashi Moorman of Evening Land Vineyards expressly for Strip House. Well balanced, and with integrated tannins and an elegant lingering finish, it shows an approachable personality with a nice core of New World dark fruit. While many California cabs have that all-too-familiar over-extracted style that can overpower food, Strip House cabernet’s subtle oak and dark berry fruit pair perfectly with the creamed spinach.
Strip House Creamed Spinach
- 1½ pounds fresh baby spinach (about 1 quart chopped and cooked)
- 1 cup reserved spinach liquid cup minced shallots
- 2 cups truffle cream
- 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons truffle butter
- 1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white truffle oil
Quickly blanch the spinach in salted, rapidly boiling water. Remove spinach with a skimmer and allow to drain and cool. Squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible and reserve 1 cup of juice.
In a soup pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the shallots until translucent, but not brown. Add 1 cup of the truffle cream and bring to a simmer. Whip in the truffle butter and then add 1/3 cup of the grated Parmesan cheese. Fold in all the chopped spinach and add the remaining cup of truffle cream. Bring to a simmer. If the creamed spinach looks dry or tight, add a couple of tablespoons of the reserved spinach liquid. Fold in the remaining 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Season to taste. Finish the dish with the truffle oil and serve.
- 2 ounces butter
- 2 ounces all-purpose flour
Melt the butter in a sauté pan. Slowly whisk in the flour until the roux is formed. Remove from heat and reserve.
- ½ lb. unsalted butter
- 2 ounces canned black truffle peelings, finely chopped
- 2 ounces black truffle juice (optional)
- 2 ounces white truffle oil
- 1 tsp. Kosher salt
- A pinch ground black pepper
Soften the butter at room temperature. Place in a mixer and start to beat using the paddle. Add the truffle peelings and juice and paddle until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. Incorporate the white truffle oil. Package in containers and refrigerate or freeze until needed.
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/3 cup diced Spanish onion
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 ounces truffle butter
- 1 tsp. Kosher salt
- ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
In a saucepan, bring the heavy cream and onions to a simmer. Cook until the onion is soft. With a hand-mixer, puree the onion into the cream. Slowly add some of the roux until a medium-thick sauce is made. (It should coat the back of a wooden kitchen spoon but not approach a custard consistency). With the hand-mixer, incorporate the truffle butter, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and keep warm in a water bath if using to make creamed spinach immediately or chill and reserve for future use.