A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Slow Collards

It occurs to me that you might not yet have cooked collards the really long, slow, traditional way, Mom. The collards Dad has started growing are so tender, and our family isn't much for cooking vegetables for half a day. And besides, I didn't want to scare you the first few times I made collard greens for you, because Southern food was so foreign to us. But I think you should try it. I took a bunch of pictures on Sunday, so here's a pictorial guide.

I weighed the bunch of collards I bought before I left the store: 3.5 pounds. It was a large, compact bunch, and probably yielded 8 side-dish-sized servings.

I have made greens that were really tasty but totally ruined by gritty dirt. So you have to do exactly what all the recipes say: fill a sink or a giant bowl (or a cooler, as I discovered at Thanksgiving) with water, swish the greens around, and let them sit there for 10 or more minutes until the dirt has fallen to the bottom. Change the water once or twice. Collards seem less dirty in general than turnip and mustard greens, which you should wash even more thoroughly.

Don't dry the collards at all -- you're just going to add more water. Take several leaves at a time, roll or bunch them up a bit, and cut crosswise, across the stem. I don't discard much of the stalk -- only the thickest bit at the base. It all gets very tender and tasty, so why waste it?

You will need some kind of cured pork product. I probably wouldn't have chosen the chemical wonderland pictured here, but Lawson was good enough to do our Thanksgiving shopping and decided we needed 10 pounds of artificially flavored pork neckbones, so I will not complain. Ham hocks work well, too. Probably roasted pork bones of any sort would also be okay.

A closeup, perhaps?

I don't know what that is, either. I poked it, and it was flexible.

Next, get a big pot. The bigger it is, the less time you have to spend waiting for the collards to cook down so you can stuff more in the pot. You will probably still have to spend a while doing so...maybe 15 extremely unstrenuous minutes.

Turn the heat on to medium-high and put the pork in the pot. Begin adding collards.

This is still just the one bunch I started with. It took about 10 minutes to get it all in. I used this strangely shaped wooden spoon thing that Lawson picked up at a yard sale to stir and prod.

Once all the collards are in, add water to bring the level up to 4 or 5 inches. Some recipes call for more...according to a family cookbook, Lawson's aunt covered hers entirely with water which she then discarded (sacrilege!) but this is a good start. You may need to add more later. Slow collards should end up with plenty of what is usually called potlikker, a greenish vitaminy broth that is, for me, almost the entire point of slow collards.

Then simmer the whole thing, lid slightly vented, for 3 to 6 hours, stirring maybe every 30 minutes. The pork should cook down and the greens become first darker green then less green. Add more water if needed.

Here are the collards after about two hours. They've reduced but are still darker green and not yet completely tender. These took another hour and a half.

When they're finished cooking, salt the collards to taste -- you shouldn't need much if the pork was cured. Then add a few teaspoons or more of hot pepper vinegar. Ideally you have a jar of pickled chiles of some sort and can just use some of the juice. If not, maybe cider vinegar and Texas Pete?

And here they are, all finished and delicious, with plenty of potlikker and a little of the meat that fell off the neckbone. Do not be dubious, even if you prefer vegetables that aren't overcooked...these are a special case. Lawson eats them cold out of the refrigerator for dessert -- they're that good.


Kris said...

This is a wonderful treatise. I have made slow collards, but not your extreme version. But I will!

Dad made Portuguese kale soup tonight, very delicious.

Russell said...

Isn't the flexible pork thingy a trachea?

Eva said...

Now THAT is the kind of comment we need more of around here, Russell. Awesome. I figured it was probably a non-circulatory conduit of some sort, but I didn't know what.