Southern Style Collard Greens

Southern collard greens with a bowl of soup beans.

In the cuisine of the Southern United States and traditional African-American cuisineturnipcollardkalegarden cressdandelionmustard, and pokeweedgreens are commonly cooked, and often served with pieces of ham or bacon. The boiling water, called potlikker, is used as broth. Water in which pokeweed has been prepared contains toxins removed by the boiling, and should be discarded.

Here’s a southern/ soul food classic. Leafy greens, cooked slowly with smoked pork. Now, if you’re like me, raised in the north by health conscious parents, the very idea of cooking green vegetables for more than a few minutes, let alone multiple hours, might freak you out a little bit. I’m not about to swear off ever cooking collard greens with a quick sauté again, but I’m also happy to say I’ll cook them this way again. They’re delicious on their own or along side a bowl of soup beans.

What we’re doing is braising them. If you think about what braising does to meat, you have a vague idea what it’s doing to your greens. The slow simmer breaks down the tougher elements of the leaves, until they are nearly falling apart, just like the meat on a well braised lamb shank slides right of the bone. Now collards are one of the toughest greens out there. They benefit from having time to become more tender.

Add the smokiness from a ham hock, a little kick from some hot sauce, a touch of sugar, and finish it off with some vinegar to brighten things up. It’s easy to see why people raised on these don’t think there’s any other way to cook them. And don’t throw away the juices- that pot likker is where most of the vitamins and minerals you’ve been afraid of cooking out wind up. It’s just as tasty as the greens, so sop it up with a piece of cornbread, or drink it when you’ve finished your bowl of greens.

You can follow the same recipe with other types of greens, but they won’t need to simmer as long.

Most recipes I looked at emphasized how collard greens are gritty, and the need to wash them thoroughly. If you’ve grown your own that’s likely to be true. Modern grocery store produce usually doesn’t have that problem, but it’s worth giving them a good rinse anyway- you don’t know what else might be on them.

I tried to take a video of my method of removing the stems from collards and other sturdy greens like kale, but decided that I’m not quite ready to double the cost of my website in order to host one honestly pretty shitty video. The trick is that you take one leaf and grab the stem firmly with one hand. The other hand gently grabs the base of the leaf around the stem. Now pull your hands apart, stripping the leaf off the stem, and you should be left with stem in one hand and tender leaf in the other. Of course with the long slow cook you could likely leave the stems in, but it most of the recipes I looked at said “you can leave the stems, but I don’t”

Southern Style Collard Greens

Serves: 6-8
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook 3 1/2 hours
Total 4 hours

2 ⅓ Tablespoons bacon fat
1 ½ sweet onions, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
⅔ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 ½ Tablespoons seasoned salt
1 ¼ teaspoons hot sauce
1 large or 2 small smoked ham hocks
64 oz. chicken broth

3 lbs. collard greens
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups water

3 Tablespoons cider vinegar

2 ½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
⅓ teaspoon paprika
11 slices bacon (in place of ham hock)
¾ lb. smoked ham, diced (in place of ham hock)
1 Tablespoon olive oil ( in place of equal amount of bacon fat)
1 smoked turkey leg (in place of ham hock)
2 Tablespoons canola oil (in place of bacon fat)
3 Tablespoons white vinegar (in place of cider vinegar)

Heat bacon fat in a large dutch oven. Add onion and garlic and sauté 5-10 minutes, until soft and starting to brown. 

Add seasonings, hot sauce, ham hock and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 ½- 2 hours.

Clean your sink well and fill it with clean, cool water. Strip the collard leaves off the tough center stem and toss the leaves into the sink. Wash them thoroughly, rubbing between your hands and changing water as needed to remove any dirt and grit. 

Working with a few leaves at a time, roll them into a cigar shape and cross cut into ribbons, according to your desired size. 

Once the hocks have cooked for a couple hours, add the collard greens and sugar to the pot. Push them down into the broth, and add additional water to just cover the greens. Continue to simmer, partially covered, for another hour and a half, stirring occasionally, until greens are very tender. There should still be a generous amount of liquid in the pot, but not so much that your greens are submerged. 

Pull out the ham hock and remove the bones. Chop the meat and return it to the pot. Stir in the vinegar, taste for seasoning, and serve with additional hot sauce on the side. 

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