There are dozens of ways to cook collards and this one leans towards the more traditional, using a smoked ham hock and bacon fat to add flavor and richness. You can use oil (peanut, canola, or grapeseed) if you don't have bacon fat on hand, but you will miss out on some flavor. If you are looking for a super healthy way to prepare them, a simple five-minute steaming will do. I like my collards to have a little texture and chewiness, so I cook them a little less longer than traditionally called for. If you want supersoft, silky collards, cook them for the full two hours.
How to Cook CollardsServes 4 as a side dish
What You Need
10 to 12 cups of water
1 large or 2 small smoked ham hocks
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 bunches of collards
1 large yellow onion
2 tablespoons bacon fat or oil
Salt and pepper
Large pot or Dutch oven with lid
A chef's knife and cutting board
A large frying pan
1. Bring the Water and Ham Hock to a Boil: In the large pot, bring the water and ham hock to a boil over a high flame. When the water reaches a boil, reduce to a simmer, add the peeled garlic cloves and partially cover. Simmer for two hours. Periodically check and add more water if needed to keep the ham hock covered.
2. Prepare the Collards: Wash the collards well in cold water. Remove the center stem by slicing along either side of the stem with your knife, cutting them in half while removing the stem. Alternatively, you can strip the leaves from the stalk using your hands. Stack the collard halves in a single pile and cut crosswise into thick ribbons.
3. Prepare the Onion: Chop the yellow onion into a medium large dice.
4. Cook the Collards: After two hours, remove the ham hock from the water using the tongs and place on a plate to cool. Add the collards to the water and bring back to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, for at least 45 minutes for chewy collards or up to 2 hours for silky soft collards.
5. Shred the Ham: While the collards are cooking, shred the meat from the ham hock and discard the rest. Sauté the onion in the bacon fat until softened and glossy, about 15 minutes. Add the meat and continue to cook until the onions start to brown. Set aside until collards are done.
6. Combine and Sauté: When the collards are done, turn off the heat and using the tongs, transfer the collards from the pot and into the frying pan with the onions. Be sure to include the garlic cloves, which will be super soft and can be easily smashed into the collards. Continue to sauté the greens until all the flavors have blended, splashing in a few ladles of the cooking liquid towards the end to moisten the greens. Salt to taste and add several grinds of fresh pepper. Serve 'em up!
Additional Notes:• Do NOT discard any remaining cooking liquid, a.k.a pot likker! It is loaded with flavor. Some people serve it up on the side and use it to moisten cornbread. You can also use it to cook beans or as a stock for a hearty soup. It can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for several months.
• For spicy collards, add a chopped chili or a few pinches of chile flakes when sautéing the onions.
• Sprinkle with a little vinegar (I use cider vinegar) just before serving.
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(Images: Dana Velden)