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Not even blueberries have more antioxidants – those mysterious anti-aging enzymes – than cruciferous greens like collards. And it’s a good thing, too, because no one eats many blueberries in the winter months, when the sturdy greens are abundant in markets north and south. In fact, New Jersey, one of the preeminent blueberry-growing states in the East, is also among the biggest producers of collard greens. Makes you wonder what’s in the water there!
Braised greens often get a bad rap for being one-dimensional and over-cooked, and while this is too often the case, overcooking isn’t the only culprit. It’s usually clumsy seasoning that makes them pallid. The key to getting depth of flavor in a minerally green is a low simmer and a richly seasoned pot likker.
We like to freeze this pot likker to use as stock when we make soup. But more often, the likker doesn’t linger beyond the afternoon after we’ve served the collards.
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil, or canola oil
- 1 smoked ham hock or smoked hog jowl or ¼ pound slab bacon, diced
- 8 cups water
- 3 dried chile peppers or 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3 ¾ pounds collard greens (about 72 leaves, or 3 bunches), ribbed, washed, and cut into 1-inch-wide strips
1. Pour the oil into an 8-quart stockpot over medium-high heat and swirl it around so it covers the bottom. Score the ham hock with a small sharp knife, and when the oil begins to shimmer, set it in the pot. Sear the hock all over as best you can and allow it to render some fat, about 6 minutes (since a hock’s shape is so oblique, it will become spottily browned, but that is fine).
2. Pour the water into the pot; it will hiss and pop for a few seconds. Add the chiles and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, until the stock is deeply flavored with smoke and spiciness.
3. Add a few handfuls of the collards to the pot. The greens will float on the surface, so stir them frequently, submerging them with the spoon, until they have turned a bright Kelly green (3 to 5 minutes) and become floppier and more compact, so you can add more handfuls. Continue adding handfuls of collards, stirring and submerging them, until all the greens are in the pot (6 to 10 minutes). Turn the heat to low and simmer very gently for 1 hour. The greens will be a very dark matte green and completely tender.
4. Place on plates with a slotted spoon, and pass a cruet of Pepper Vinegar at the table.
Killer Leftover-Collard Greens Egg Drop Soup:
We save leftover collard greens in their liquor in the refrigerator, because with strategic additions of canned tomatoes, beans, onions, or potatoes, they become the foundations for terrific soups. Our hands-down favorite is collard greens egg-drop soup, which we make by reheating leftover greens and liquor in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and gently cracking into them 2 eggs for every 2 cups of leftover greens and liquor (one large serving will be exactly that size). We simmer the soup until the eggs are just poached, about 8 minutes. If you prefer your yolks made harder, you can continue cooking the soup until the eggs are done to your liking, about 3 minutes for a yolk with a hard exterior and a soft center 5 minutes for a yolk that is completely hard-cooked.
© 2006 Martens Maxwell Inc.