May 24, 2013 by annmquintero
Well, Amazons, I’m in Charleston, so how could I resist making collards? I was taught to make collards by my friend Cindy who’s a native Charleston-ian and a hell of a cook. She’s also a paleo/crossfit badass and one of my favorite people. As to the collards, I’ll tell you, to this day, I’ve yet to find better. They’re sweet and spicy and vinegary and they’re not grey! Not to mention that collards are some of those brilliant dark, leafy greens we should all be trying to get into our diet more. Fiber, iron, vitamins, antioxidants… and you get pot likker too!
A large pot with high sides
A slotted spoon
Collard greens (Get more than you think. They shrink in the pan.)
Bacon, thick cut, no nitrites
Red onion, 1, chopped
Maple syrup (NOT pancake syrup!) or brown sugar
Crushed red pepper flakes
Apple cider vinegar
Chicken stock (optional)
Salt and pepper
First things first, I use the lazy way to remove the leaves from the tough stems. Grab the thick end of the stem and rip the leaves off, away from you. Learning to get the right pressure to make this fast and efficient takes practice. Too much and you break the stem and you’re back where you started. Too light and the leaves slip through your fingers. Real chefs would cut them out neatly with a knife. I’m not a real chef.
The best way to clean greens of any sort is to soak them in a sink full of water. Make sure they have enough room to really swim and swish and shake them around a bit. Remove them from the water before draining the sink. You’ll be amazed how much sand and grit comes off of those leaves and settles in the bottom. Tear the leaves into bite size pieces.
Now for the fun part! (I always think bacon is the fun part.) Chop your bacon into bite size pieces and drop into the cold pot. Set your heat to medium. I like a slow rendering of bacon to maximize crispiness and get as much of that fat into the pan as possible for use later.
While the bacon is cooking down (keep an eye on it and stir from time to time), start chopping up your red onion. You could feasibly start the bacon before you prep your collards, but if you haven’t worked with collards before, I’m going to recommend that you prep your greens first. It’s a more leisurely cooking pace.
When the bacon is crisp and the fat’s been rendered, remove the pieces with a slotted spoon and set aside for later. Add the onions to the fat and keep the temperature steady. What you want is for your onions to sweat (get soft and translucent, giving up their moisture), not brown. Now’s the time to hit the onions with salt. It’ll aid with the release of moisture.
Next come the red pepper flakes and whatever sweetener you’ve chosen. How much heat and how much sweet you add depends on you. If you like it really spicy, go crazy with the red pepper! But remember, you can always add more later. You can’t always take things out.
When the onions and red pepper and sweetener have gotten themselves all worked in together, it’s time to start adding splashes of the vinegar. I’ll warn you now, hot vinegar is not a fun thing for the eyes and nose. Don’t get your face over the pot when you’re doing this unless you’re really into vinegar huffing (no judgment).
Now we can start adding our greens by the handful. The tongs are going to be your best friend here. The goal is to gently turn the greens in the pot, coating them with the yummy base you’ve been preparing. As each handful cooks down, toss in another one, occasionally adding in a bit more vinegar and/or some chicken stock for moisture and flavor. The vinegar also serves to help break down the tough fibers of collards making them more tender.
Once the collards start going in the pot, this whole process will go very quickly. You want to be very careful to make sure there’s always liquid in the bottom of the pot. If the pan gets dry, you’ll run the risk of burning or crisping the greens which isn’t really what we’re going for here. Ideally, the greens will still be green by the time you’re done braising them. If they’ve gone grey, it just means they’ve been cooked a little too long. They’ll still be good, just slightly less fresh tasting. Keep tasting throughout the braising process, adjusting your flavors (sweet, salty, spicy, acidic) as necessary, and remove from the heat as soon as the whole batch is in and tender. If you have a few stragglers, the heat of the other greens and the pot will take care of them. And as always, TASTE, TASTE, TASTE!
Don’t forget to add the bacon back in just before serving!
Personally, I think these greens are a great meal in themselves, but they also make a wonderful side dish. Delicious with corn bread or chicken or pork.
I picked up most everything in this dish at the farmers market. I got the bacon from the guy who makes it and the collards from the farmer and his daughter. The maple syrup was actually a gift from a castmate in Boston. He and his dad make it themselves, sitting outside, having a few beers, letting it boil down while they solve all the world’s problems. There’s something so magical about making food that’s got stories behind it.
What’s your favorite food story? Share with us in the comments!
(If this is your first time reading EATS, I encourage you to check out the Introductions post for my philosophy and list of must-have kitchen items.)