This post is from Thankful's husband A, who loves to cook.
Despite basically spending all but the first two years of my life in Atlanta, I never really ate collard greens, a classic southern staple.
With age I have come to appreciate many dishes that would have sent me running for the hills had I seen them anywhere near my family’s kitchen. I really got fired up about collards after a New Year’s Day party a few years back. The hostess, my friend’s mother, had prepared some fantastic greens and I decided it was time to try my hand at them myself. As luck would have it, my first effort was a remarkable success, giving me a somewhat deceptive culinary ego boost.
Future attempts did not go as well, one of the problems I encountered while trying to develop a recipe was the lack of details in most of the recipes I found online. Each pretty much said boil some hocks or pork neck bones and toss in your greens. Voila! Yeah, not so much.
The vast majority of greens I have been served were prepared horribly. I can count on one hand the restaurants at which I have enjoyed greens. They’ve been bitter, gritty, scummy, cooked beyond all reason and any combination of the above. Where to start? After all, I’m not trying to make them edible, I’m trying to make them great.
The constant in any recipe is pork. Being quite the fan of pork bbq, I decided smoked hocks were my choice. Who doesn’t like a little smoky flavor? Rather than just tossing a hock in boiling water and letting it fall to pieces, I opt for a slow simmer to make a thick, full-bodied stock. This will take several hours, so it’s worth doing a large batch. After cooking, then cooling in an ice bath, I separate the stock into pint- or quart-sized containers and freeze them for future use. This allows me to whip up a batch rather quickly on a hectic weekday. You could also use chicken stock if you wanted, but would you really want to?
I typically use 2-3 hocks, a few stalks of celery, a medium onion (quartered), a few cloves of garlic, half a tablespoon of black peppercorns and a bay leaf or two, then cover the hocks a few inches over the top with cold water. Put them on the stove on high and keep an eye on the pot, you DO NOT want this to come to a boil. Once you see bubbles about the size of a pencil eraser, turn the stove down to medium low and maintain that level of heat. After about 15 minutes, use a strainer or a spoon to skim the scummy grey layer on top, but don’t stir the pot. Let the stock simmer for as long as 3 hours, skimming every 30 to 45 minutes.
At this point you have some options. You could just add spices and throw in your greens, but I don’t recommend it. The stock you have just made should be loaded with flavor and gelatin, and the greens would be overwhelmed. I suggest straining the stock and returning a pint to a quart to the pot, possibly along with one of the hocks for good measure. Let the rest of the stock cool, then portion it out and freeze.
Ice Bath: To cool stock, don’t just place in the fridge while still warm, which will drastically change the temperature conditions inside. Instead, place bowl of stock in a slightly larger bowl, with a layer of ice between, until cooled down.
A’s Collard Greens
- Salt – Start with a quarter cup for a large stock pot
- 1-2 onions, whatever kind you like
- 1 HEAD of garlic – that’s right, a whole head
- 1-2 tbs paprika
- 1-2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tbs whole black peppercorns
- 1-2 tsp cayenne
- 1-2 tsp mustard powder
- 2-3 bay leaves
- ½ to a whole lemon OR approximately ¼ c apple cider vinegar – you can also use a combination of the two. I find one of these two to be important to countering the bitterness in a lot of greens.
pretty much it – you can add any spices you choose, chives are a good addition
as is oregano and basil. I will use fresh cayenne peppers, jalapeños or even
habaneros when I can get them. Add all the seasoning to the pot, add water and
bring to a boil for 20-30 minutes.
While the pot boils, prep the greens. Pre-cut and washed greens have become a common sight in my local grocery and will save some time and effort. To go the fresh route, get ready to do some washing. Greens are often quite sandy, so a good soak in a sink full of salty water will help take that off and take care of any bugs that might be in residence. Drain and give the greens another good rinse, you don’t want to miss any dirt and sand.
remove the large veins that run down the center of the leaves, they don’t cook
evenly and aren’t particularly tasty. Hold the leaf at the base of the vein and
pull the leaf down. It should tear away from the vein fairly easily. Then tear
the leaves into smaller pieces.
Before adding greens to the pot, you will want to taste the cooking liquid. It should be a level or two spicier and saltier than you want the greens to end up. Basically, it should taste like a grossly over-seasoned soup. If not, you will need to adjust the spices accordingly. I like it to be a little less salty than sea water and spicy enough to get your tongue tingling.
are now ready to boil some greens. Throw them in the pot a few handfuls at a
time and when they have wilted down, add a little more. Let them boil on medium
to med-high for 30 to 45 minutes. Drain greens with a slotted spoon, serve and enjoy!
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