Collards, Southern Style

As someone who identifies strongly with the Southern tradition, in the kitchen and more broadly, I felt obligated to post some information about cooking collard greens. I get that these are foreign food to some. For me, these are big time comfort food.  Any of you who grew up in the house of a Southern cook likely have a family recipe for these already.  Everyone has a secret ingredient or special tip.  I’ve heard lots of people say they had to drink the pot liquor to ward off colds and flu.  If you want to check in with someone more expert than I just search Paula Deen recipes.

Collard greens, for those of you unfamiliar, are a hardy green that can survive a frost so you’ll find them fresh in the early Spring and again in the Fall.  They don’t like the heat so you won’t see them at farmer’s markets in the dead of Summer.  I’m sure you can find them frozen pretty much any time, but as you know if you’ve been reading long, I recommend fresh and local whenever possible.  You can also find these, at least in Virginia, in the grocery store with the bagged salads.  Don’t use those.  My experience is that they don’t remove the stems before they cut them and they don’t cut them enough.  Of course you can run a knife through them once you get them home, but it would take ages to find and remove the stems.

A couple of notes about cooking fresh collards.  First, if you’re going to bother to do them, do a whole bunch.  I bought 4 pounds of fresh greens at the farmer’s market yesterday.  Once I stemmed and chopped them I had probably 12-15 cups uncooked.   It takes my largest stock pot to do them and they’ll cook down to a couple of quarts maybe.  They freeze great so do as many as you can at once.  The other reason to do a whole bunch at once is so that you don’t have to do it very often.  To do them right takes about 2 hours.  Finally, cooking collards reeks, plain and simple.  It’s not a smell you want in your house too long or if you have guests coming.  Some say that putting a whole pecan in the pot prevents the smell, but I’ve not found that to be the case.

Before you even get to the greens you’ll want to start the pot liquor.  Add a bunch of water to a big stock pot and bring it to a boil.  Throw in either some smoked ham hocks or a couple of smoked turkey wings.  My preference is the ham hocks, but the smoked turkey is a really good substitute.  If you want to make these vegetarian just add a few drops of liquid smoke and maybe some extra salt.  If you like a little kick add some Tabasco or Texas Pete.  Add some salt.  Let the pot simmer for an hour or so to make a good pot liquor for cooking collards.

So, I think removing the stems is a critical part of this process.  The stems are tough and bitter and who needs that?  Here’s what you do.  Grasp the stem in one hand.  Pinch both sides of the leaf together around the stem and strip the leaf off.  Throw the stem away and lay the leaf flat on a cutting board.  Stack 5-6 leaves and then roll them up together.  Slice the roll so that you end up with 1/2 inch strips.  If you prefer your greens in smaller pieces run your knife through the strips until you reach the desired size.  I’ve found this to be the fastest way to get this done.  A food processor results in too fine a chop so you really need to do this by hand in my opinion.

Once your pot liquor is ready and your greens are chopped you’re ready to go.  Put the greens in the pot with the liquid.  You’ll need to mash them down to make them all fit, but they wilt quickly.  Once all the greens are in add a little fat of some kind – olive oil, butter, fat back.  It doesn’t take a ton, but it makes a HUGE difference in the feel of the finished greens.  I usually add 3-4 tablespoons of butter.  Let them cook, partially covered, for about an hour.  Stir occasionally as they cook.

These freeze beautifully.  Just make sure that you have enough liquid in the container to cover the greens.  That will help prevent any freezer burn.  And they don’t smell nearly so bad when you heat them for serving so feel free to serve them to guests. Serve them with a cruet of cider vinegar for folks to add if they like.

Good? Oh yes.
Easy? Easy, but time consuming.
Good for company? Good comfort food for anyone.
Special shopping? Nope.

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