I met John a few weeks ago and we immediately bonded over our mutual love of food. He impressed me with his knowledge of heritage pork and all things gravy (a great mix, FYI). Since then, he’s been gracious enough to teach me more about Southern food and culture.
I was 30 kinds of excited when he taught me how to make these collards. I absolutely loved them. I have some in my fridge right now! I cannot believe this isn’t a “thing” out here. Seriously. I feel like it is important to share this magical concoction with as many people as I can, so I asked John to author a post for this blog, you know, in the interest of education. Make these. Promise me? You need to try them, they are delicious.
Let’s Talk About Collards, Y’all…
Food is a huge part of southern culture, and the magical ways in which true southern country dishes, or soul food, are prepared are varied and complex. Recipes usually aren’t written down or gathered in great collections. This sacred knowledge is often times only accessible through the family cooking cult’s supreme leader; in my family, this is Granny. Granny is the culinary queen of Coosa County, Alabama and the patron saint of Rockford; the nearest town to our family farm. If she’s not on the front porch reading the Good Book and talking to her hummingbirds, then she’s in the kitchen rattling every pan she can get her hands on. If she’s not in the kitchen, then she’s probably at church because those are the only places this lady goes.
In our house, food is love. You know your Granny loves you because she makes an effort to see you smile every time you eat. Your Granny knows you love her because you eat the mound of savory beauty she piles on your plate. You eat all of it. You say thank you. Then you get some more.
One of my all time favorite loves that my Granny makes is collard greens. They grow very well in that area of the country, and because collards don’t mind being frozen or canned, they are a regular appearance on many a plate in the south throughout the year.
It has come to my attention, since moving to Northern California back in May, that the mighty collard is underutilized in this particular region of the country, and drastically under appreciated by everyone except the health nazis who think that greens should just be eaten raw, or even more appalling, juiced! Blasphemy, I say! Blasphemy! I feel obligated to share a true southern recipe for preparing collard greens. This is Granny’s way. She’d be so pissed if she knew I was doing this…
As I mentioned earlier, southern dishes like collard greens are prepared in many different ways, whether it be from region to region, family to family, or generation to generation. This is how I learned, and even though I am very much biased I’ve had them all, and I believe this is by far the best way to prepare the greens. If you don’t like what you get, try something else. Collards are magic food that can take on a bunch of different flavors, so don’t be afraid to mess around with flavors and spices you are more drawn to or comfortable with.
When I met Megan a few weeks ago we quickly found that we share a passion for eating, drinking, and cooking, and she has been kind enough to be my Chico culinary tour guide since then, showing me the best food and drink the area has to offer. Last Saturday, we went to the Saturday Market in Chico to peruse the goodies and plan a good meal for a beautiful but chilly day. As we were walking the rows of the market we came upon a stack of fresh kelly green collards sitting on a table and Megan turned around and informed me that she’d NEVER EATEN COLLARD GREENS!!! Her excitement and joy from learning that I know the way of the greens was enough to melt my cold dark heart and dishonor my family by giving away my Granny’s trade secret. We bought two bundles and decided to do the damn thing. We had a blast cooking up all kinds of stuff that day, but Megan was really impressed with the greens and asked me to share how to do these things right with all of you. So, here’s how you make Granny’s Collard Greens. Share them with somebody special!
Granny’s Collard Greens
Warm a medium to large pot to low-med heat. You can also use a big cast iron skillet if your heart so desires. Add some fat –
fatty thick cut bacon, bacon ends, bacon grease, smoked neck bones, butter, something…don’t be scared to get greasy. I prefer bacon ends or thick cuts of bacon, cut into small pieces. You want this to cook slowly and to maintain a soft texture so that you release the fat and smokiness. Low and slow is the way to go.
Let your choice of fat cook for about 10 – 15 minutes, stirring regularly
Add some garlic. 4 – 6 whole cloves should do the trick. Let your garlic sweat until it starts to soften. You don’t want it to fall apart just yet, so don’t let it go too long.
Add some broth. 2 to 3 cups of chicken broth is my go to. You can use beef or pork broths as well.
Heat on medium and let all that get aquatinted together for about 10 minutes.
Add some flavor:
go heavy on the smoked paprika
go heavy on the fresh ground black pepper
add half an onion. Just cut it in half and drop it in there. I prefer reds or vidalias.
add 1/4 to 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar. If you like tanginess use 1/2 cup, if not use 1/4. If you’re timid, just roll the dice and trust the southerner. I mean you no harm.
Stir and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Prep your greens:
Remove the leafy greens from the central stem. You can use a knife or scissors to cut them away, or you can go old school and simply tear them away by hand. Wash your damn greens. Even if they look clean, collards are a very porous plant that grows near the ground, so the leaves can absorb a lot of soil and grit. The best way to ensure they are clean is to fill your sink with cool water and then add your greens and a half cup of coarse salt. Gently bath the greens in the salty water then drain the sink and rinse the greens with fresh water. I’d even go so far as to spin them as well. Gritty greens are no good.
Add your greens:
Slowly add your washed greens in small handfuls at a time. Stir each handful into your broth and add more as they cook down. When all of your greens are in the pot you want it to look sorta soupy. There should be an ample amount of liquid allowing the greens to not be clumped together or weighing heavy on the bottom of the pan. Add some water or more broth if you think you need to. Continue gently stirring until all the greens begin to darken in color, usually about 5 minutes. Put a lid on it.
Come back and stir it in 20 minutes. Put the lid back on.
Come back and stir it in 20 minutes. Taste your broth. By this time, you should be able to get an idea of what your working with. You should have some tang, some spice, and some smoky fatty goodness going on in there. I usually add more paprika right here. Bring your heat back down to low-med, put the lid back on, and let the magic happen.
Continue checking and stirring every 20-30 minutes until all the green are very dark in color and soft in texture. When you taste them they should not be chewy or crispy or fibrous, but soft and savory. They should be ready to eat after about two hours of cooking.
Serving your greens:
I just slap em on the plate and go to town, but some people do prefer to add pepper sauce or hot sauce to theirs’. Do as you so please. I usually add some more pepper just because pepper is amazing, and a little salt can go a long way if you have undercooked or unevenly cooked your greens and are getting some bitter flavors in there.
Saving your greens:
Collard greens are amazing left over, so don’t throw them out if you don’t eat them all. In most cases, they will continue to ferment in that heavenly broth and continue to taste better and better over the next few days. They also can be frozen and stored away for entire seasons without losing anything with the time.
When you’ve had your fill of the greens be sure to keep the broth. The broth is called pot likker, and is the best soup base you could ever ask for. Some old country folks even drink it straight, you know, for vitality and what not.