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Creamed spinach gets promoted from side to star in this one-pan chicken skillet

UPDATED: Tue., March 16, 2021

Spinach shines in this one-pot meal.  (Scott Suchman/For the  Washington Post)
Spinach shines in this one-pot meal. (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
By Ellie Krieger Special To The Washington Post

This recipe promotes saucy creamed spinach from a popular side dish at occasional steakhouse dinners to the center of the plate, turning it into a healthful and quick one-pan meal.

Simply seasoned chicken breast, which is cooked in the skillet first, provides the satisfying protein for the dish, while its browned bits in the pan add an extra layer of flavor to the spinach.

Once the cooked chicken is transferred to a plate, onion and garlic hit the skillet to soften in a little olive oil. Then comes the saucy part, with flour-thickened low-fat milk that’s simmered to a decadent, velvety creaminess – no cream needed.

Ever so convenient, frozen spinach is stirred into that luscious base. Be sure to defrost the spinach first and squeeze as much water as possible out of it; you can use that water in soups or smoothies.

Then, the creamed spinach is made cheesy and rich with a heap of Parmesan cheese and fragrant with a handful of basil ribbons.

As the star of the dish, the spinach is served spooned onto the center of the plate, topped with a piece of chicken and garnished with basil leaves and, if you’d like, a sprinkle of Parmesan for a fresh, nourishing way to get your green on.

Basil Cream-Spinach Chicken Skillet

4 pieces skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, pounded to ½-inch thick

¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2¾ cups cold low-fat milk

1 cup diced yellow onion (about 1 medium onion)

3 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated

Two (10-ounce) packages chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

¼ cup packed fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons, plus whole leaves for garnish

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Season the chicken with ¼ teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering.

Add the chicken and cook until browned and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to a plate and cover to keep warm. If you need to work in batches, cook 2 pieces of chicken in 1 tablespoon of oil each time.

While the chicken cooks, in a medium bowl or pitcher, whisk the flour into the milk until completely dissolved.

In the same skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the spinach and basil and cook, stirring, until warmed through and combined, 2 to 3 minutes.

Re-whisk the flour-milk mixture and add it to the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to simmer. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and saucy, 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the cheese, nutmeg and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper, and add any accumulated juices from the plate of cooked chicken to the pan.

To serve, spoon about ¾ cup of the creamed spinach onto each serving plate, top each with a piece of chicken and garnish with basil leaves.

Yield: 4 servings

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