Thursday, March 10, 2011

Southern Cooking Classic: Collard Greens

Collard Greens are definitely a rare menu item outside the South, but they don't have to be in your diet!  What can be wrong with bacon and greens--two of my favorite foods!

The traditional recipes use a smoked ham hock, but since my husband and I had recently taken a butchering class offered by the Pig Wizard, we have cuts from half a pasture-rasied pig in our freezer (it actually fit in our refrigerator freezer!).  A few portions went home with the Pig Wizard to cure, since he has the set-up.  After sampling some dried, cured meats he brought along, ours will be well worth the wait!

I cannot speak highly enough of the incredible opportunity it was to better connect with our food and play a role in the process of bringing it to our plate.  The 8-hour class was an eye-opening experience to see inside our food and how to parse it into cuts.  There were no cleavers and we only used the saw a couple of times--with finesse of the knife and careful work, you can render elegant cuts.  This was respectful butchering and in its craftsmanship and skill, an art form.

We devoured the carnitas we made from the butt or pork shoulder--omg is fresh, quality pork sweet and delicious!  We cut out the shoulder blade that was embedded in our carnitas meat and reserved it for our collards, leaving some meat attached.  This is a great use for the bone if you buy a bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt, which is often the case in some markets.

To supplement the pork bone, which we felt was a little sparse, we added a pound of bacon.  Yes, a full pound.  And it was awesome.

The collard greens are a hearty green you can find around the chard and kale.  They are related to broccoli and cabbage, so they have similar benefits such as vitamins A, C, and K, and calcium.  These veggies are also potent cancer fighters, as a 2006 study published in Cancer Research indicates:
Epidemiologic evidence suggests that high dietary intake of Brassica vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, protects against tumorigenesis in multiple organs. 3,3'-Diindolylmethane, one of the active products derived from Brassica vegetables, is a promising antitumor agent. 
Collard Greens recipes involve boiling the collards, but don't leave that liquid behind when you serve them!  Don't throw out the baby OR the bathwater in this case!  That liquid, called "pot liquor" or "potlikker," is an extremely nutritious broth with the vitamins leached from the cooked greens.  The loss of nutrients is one reason why I never boil or blanche my veggies, except in a soup--I try to keep as much of the nutrients in the food as possible and if they are released during cooking, I make sure to use that liquid.  In the case of pot liquor, it is rich and delicious--you don't want to waste a drop!

My husband was the driver in this recipe--and boy am I lucky to feast on this incredible creation of his!  He scoured the recipes out there and mashed together the ingredients we like best.  I took the revered role as sous chef and taster.  He is a great cook, and cooking together is so much fun, even in our small kitchen.  We always manage to wind up laughing and having a good time.  Just sharing the time together is infinitely precious.

So without further ado, here is our recipe:

Collard Greens and Bacon
Healthy, hearty greens paired with bacon--this is a heavenly match you'll soon devour!
Prep Time: 15min. or less
Cooking Time: 2hrs, give or take

  • 3+ big bunches of collard greens
  • uncooked ham bone from a bone-in roast, with some meat attached (great for using the bone from pork butt/shoulder leftover when making carnitas!) 
  • 1lb nitrate-free bacon, diced
  • garlic powder
  • salt
  • pepper
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • water
  • a large stock pot

The first step is the stock: toss in your ham bone, diced bacon, and all the seasonings--you can wing the amount based on how much you are making at once.  We used about 2T garlic, 20 pepper grinds, 2t salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes, initially, then we added more to taste once the collards were about done.  Add 3-4 quarts of water and bring the liquid to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for an hour.

Once the hour is up and your house smells amazing, you can add the collards.  Here's how to prepare them: wash them twice to remove any sediment (we've heard that they are notoriously dirty and need a good rinsing), then strip the leafy greens from the woodier parts of the stem using one hand to hold the stem and the other to make a fist around the stem and pull up to the top of the leaf, stripping the leafy green from its stem (I use this method for making my kale chips with dinosaur kale and it saves SO much time!).  Stack the leaves and cut the collards into wide strips.  You can stop there and add the strips to the pot or add another slice to break apart long tangles.  Many of ours after cooking became a large dice--think stamp-sized--but there were still some noodley strips that were more difficult to fit on a spoon.

Add all the collards to the pot--you really can't go wrong with adding a ton--we wish we added more to ours because they were delicious!  Stir to help get them all in the liquid and simmer the pot for another hour--less if you want more chewy leaves and at least an hour if you want them meltable.  Stir every now and then to break apart tangles and feast on that delicious aroma up close.  Taste and add any more seasonings as desired.  They're done once you reach your desired tenderness of the greens.  Serve in a bowl as a soup alongside your main meat or add the cooked meat right in.  This as a chicken soup is amazing!

This dish is absolutely, lip-smacking delicious--which is definitely saying something considering it's a healthy, green vegetable!  Hope you enjoy it too!


  1. chicken/ham/pork stock makes a huge difference in flavor vs. plain water.

  2. i have never put stock in my greens but will definitly try that. i love greens. my grandma taught me to put a little vinegar to them. makes it even better believe it not.

  3. Thanks for the suggestions, Cheryl and Chuck! Stock would be even better, and I have heard that pork stock is the best. I have some bones and feet from the half a pig, so I'll make a stock using them at some point. I'll have to remember to use it for my collards! And the vinegar is a good hint, Chuck. I can imagine that would further break down the bone and get some marrow in there, especially if I let the stock simmer for longer. I'll have to try that!

  4. I'm a southerner (from GA). We don't use vinegar. we let the greens simmer for 2-3 hours with a bone (ham hock or smoked turkey), and plenty of gelatin leaches out, so we know minerals are there. This method was the way my family for generations stretched food, so everybody got a little veg, a little meat, a whole lotta likker. I find the vinegar adds too much bitterness & bite. In many families sugar was added with vinegar to take the bite out; neither is necessary for me. My greens are smooth and really tasty! My Jewish friends love it because I use only smoked turkey!!!