Breakfast doesn't get much better than this. I'm talking about tangles of tender collards cooked with bacon (and yes, oh yes, bacon fat), sharing a plate with soft polenta and a perfectly fried egg. If you can wait a whole 10 seconds before breaking that yolk and making a total mess of the plate, you have far more willpower than me.
I know the Southerners in the group are going to wonder why these aren't grits instead of polenta — after all, there are collard greens involved. Really, I find the difference in taste is pretty subtle, and I just happened to have some stone-ground cornmeal from Oxford, Mississippi, in my pantry, so I used that. This was finer than the grits I grew up with, so I'm calling it polenta. Please feel free to debate the topic in the comments.
I cooked my greens with bacon, but you can easily leave it out for a vegetarian version.
This is one of those dishes that you'll make once and then never need to look at the recipe again. Which is handy because it's a particularly good breakfast to make the morning after a slightly overindulgent evening, if you catch my meaning. It's also just as easy to make for one person as it is to make for a whole house of guests — just make an extra-big batch of polenta, throw in another bunch of collards, and fry up extra eggs.
If you're new to collards, this bacon-y recipe is a grand way to be introduced. You can also sub in any hearty greens you might have handy, like spinach, chard, or kale. If you're vegetarian, skip the bacon (obviously!), but I'd recommend adding some mushrooms or peppers to add a little variety to your bites of greens.
Oh, and P.S.: If you want to add some cheese to the polenta, I won't tell anyone. Just sayin'.
- Emma, April 2015
Fried Eggs and Collard Greens over Polenta
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
1 cup yellow cornmeal
4 to 5 strips thick-cut bacon (about 1/4 pound), roughly chopped
1 medium red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large bunch collard greens (14 to 16 ounces), stems removed and leaves sliced into ribbons
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 cup chicken broth
4 to 8 large eggs (1 to 2 eggs per person)
Salt and pepper
Before cooking the greens, get the polenta going. Bring the milk and water to rapid simmer in a medium sauce pan. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking as you go. Season with salt and pepper (about a teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper to start, to taste). Continue to cook, whisking, until the polenta begins to thicken.
Reduce the heat to low and cover. Every 10 minutes, uncover the pot and stir the polenta, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pan. The polenta is done when its creamy and no longer tastes raw, after 20 to 30 minutes. (If the collards aren't quite done yet when the polenta is finished, you can turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the polenta warm. When you are ready to serve it, stir to loosen it up and add a bit more milk if necessary.)
Warm a large skillet over medium heat and add the chopped bacon. Cook until the bacon fat has rendered and the bacon is getting crispy. Move the bacon to one side of the pan and pour off all but a tablespoon or so of the bacon fat.
Add the onions to the pan with the bacon and continue to cook until the bacon is as crispy as you like it and the onions are soft and beginning to caramelize, 8 to 10 more minutes.
Raise the heat to medium-high and add the collard greens and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir and toss until the greens are coated in the bacon fat and beginning to wilt. Add 1/2 cup of the chicken broth, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat slightly and cover the pan. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, adding more chicken broth if the mixture gets dry, until the collard greens are dark green and soft. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.
Melt a little butter over medium heat in a non-stick or cast iron skillet. Fry the eggs in batches.
To serve, put a big scoop of polenta on each plate and top it with the greens and bacon mixture and a fried egg or two. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and hot sauce, if desired.
- Make-Ahead Breakfast: Leftover collards keep very well — I often make a big batch on the weekend and warm them up for breakfasts during the week. The polenta will firm up and lose its creaminess, but is also great reheated. You could also serve the collards with toast or any other prepared grain.
This recipe has been updated. Originally published February 2009.