It’s traditional in the south to serve slow-cooked, smoky collard greens to celebrate the New Year, and we are all for it. But frankly, collards are so good, we enjoy them any time we can get them. Here in California, that usually means winter after a frost. And while we have had almost no winter rains so far, it has gotten cold enough that we saw some collards at the farmers market. We bought a big batch, cooked them up for the New Years and are still enjoying them. We never seem to get enough greens.
Unfamiliar with collard greens? Basically a forerunner of kale (and in the same family) collards are big leafy greens with larger, rounder leaves than kale and with a bigger, earthier flavor. The main differences (that we know of) is that collards need to cook longer than most types of kale and loses its color a bit more during cooking. But the flavor is so rich, and so deep, that we prefer collards to kale for long slow cooking, particularly if pork is involved.
And, of course, pork is involved. In this case, a smoked ham shank (or ham hock, pretty much the same thing ). While we love our bacon and sausage, when making soups or braises, a smoked ham shank is one of our favorite ingredients. The way to think of smoked ham shanks is “instant pork stock and meat in one tidy package”. The combination of smoky meat, bones, marrow and connective tissue flavor any liquid in about an hour. From there you can make bean soups, ham and noodle soup, rich vegetable soups or braised greens.
For the collards you simply soften some aromatics, add some water and chicken stock (or just water), and the ham shanks. Cook for an hour. Meanwhile, clean and stem the collards, cut into big ribbons (its seems wrong to call this a chiffonade) add the collards and cook for another hour. After about 45 minutes remove the ham shanks, let them cool, skin them and then remove and chop the meat. Add the meat back to the pot. Stir, taste, season and serve with hot sauce and some cider vinegar for fine tuning. Cornbread or rustic bread for dipping is always welcome.
And yes, it really is that easy. The only thing you may want to play with is seasoning and spice. We like to add some red pepper flake, black pepper and just a touch of chili powder and cumin about halfway through cooking, but that is just us. We would hold off on adding much salt until near the end of cooking, as the shanks will season the stock. Oh, and make sure you serve in bowls with the broth (or liquor), that really is the best part.
Southern Collard Greens:
Notes Before You Start:
- If you can’t find collard greens, you can use mustard greens or hearty kale in this dish. Just adjust cooking time and take the greens off the heat when tender.
- Smoked ham shanks and ham hocks are basically the same thing and impart the same flavor. Use interchangeably.
- Have you butcher saw your shank / hock into 2-3 pieces, it is much easier to handle when you remove the meat.
- Greens (and the liquor) will keep in the fridge for a few days. In fact, they may be even better the second day.
(Serves 6-8 as a big side or lunch dish)
- 3 tablespoons bacon fat or cooking oil
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 ham shank, preferably sawed into a few pieces
- 1 large clove garlic, smashed
- 4 cups low sodium (or homemade) chicken stock
- 4 cups water
- 2-3 pounds (4 or 5 large bunches) collard greens, washed, stemmed and cut into 1/2 inch ribbons
- Salt and black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flake (optional)
- Pinch of chili powder (optional)
- Pinch of cumin (optional)
- Hot sauce
- Cider vinegar
- Place a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. When hot add the bacon fat and sliced onion. Cook until slightly brown and soft.
- Add the ham shank, garlic, stick and water to the pot. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour.
- After 1 hour add the greens, and simmer for another hour, until the greens are tender. Add spices at this time, if you like.
- Meanwhile, after about 45 minutes of the greens cooking, remove the ham shank pieces and let them cool on a plate for 5-10 minutes. Skin the shanks and pick the meat from the bones. Chop the meat and add back to the pot and stir.
- Cook the greens for a few more minutes until tender and the ham pieces are heated through. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve with hot sauce and cider vinegar.
- Hoppin’ Johns, Collard Greens and Roasted Chicken (loveissosimple.wordpress.com)
- Easy and Traditional New Year’s Eve Recipes (outerbanksvacations.com)
- 5 Resolutions to Make You a Better Home Cook (+ Pot-Roasted Collard Greens ) (bonafidefarmfood.com)
- Collard Greens and Black-eyed Peas (prettyphilippa.wordpress.com)
- Southern Style Collard Greens with Smoked Turkey Leg (ashleyalaheart.com)