To me, braised collard greens are as Tex-Mex as anything else. A pile of braised greens was standard fare in my house growing up. They were cheap and healthy.
It was a common occurrence to have a big pile of braised greens next to some stacked enchiladas. This was probably more of a West Tex-Mex meal than standard Central or East Texas Tex-Mex.
That’s just how we ate.
Southern-style braised greens have little in common with what you might find in other parts of the country, other than the fact that they’re green.
In the South, tough greens like collards, mustard, or turnip greens are braised with pork fat and water for a substantial amount of time. We braise for an hour and a half in this recipe, but some people take it longer than that.
The longer you cook it, the softer they’ll be.
In other areas of the country, tender greens, like spinach, are quickly sauteed rather than slow-cooked. That’s fine, but it doesn’t make use of the more flavorful and cheap greens like we ate growing up.
How to Trim and Clean Collard Greens
Collard greens are generally fairly dirty, whether you get them out of your garden or you get them at your grocery store, they need to be cleaned well.
The best way to do it is to trim out the tough stems first. I do this by cutting along the leaf in a big ‘V’ shape, then toss the leaves in a sink full of water and the stems in the trash or compost heap.
Once you’ve gotten them all trimmed, it’s time to get them clean.
Stick both hands in the water and agitate it like a mashing machine while grabbing the pieces and making a scrubbing motion. Keep sloshing around and working them like this until you’ve gone through them all.
Drain the sink, then very thoroughly rinse everything to ensure that it’s all clean.
Now, cut all the leaves into one-inch strips so that it’ll be easier to get it into the pot later.
Bacon or Ham Hock
This recipe calls for bacon, but you can really use any piece of cured, fatty pork. I use bacon because I make my own and always have some put away in the freezer.
I like a lot of meat in my greens, so I use half a pound. You can cut it down to a quarter of a pound and it would still taste good. That’s your call, but is there such a thing as too much bacon?
If you want to use ham hocks instead of bacon, go ahead. You’ll need to add an extra step, though. After the greens and ham hocks have cooked for about forty-five minutes, take out the ham hock and pull all of the meat off the bones.
Throw away the bones, skin, and fat, and toss the meat bits back into the pot.
Braised Collard Greens – Southern Style
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1/2 medium yellow onion – chopped
- 1/2 lb. bacon – diced
- 4 cloves garlic – minced
- 2 lbs. collard greens – stems removed and leaves cut into 1-inch strips
- 3/4 cup chicken stock – divided
- 1 tbsp. dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp. crushed red pepper – a crumbled chile de arbol works great
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar – (optional)
- Wash and trim your greens as outlined above.
- Heat a large pot on medium-high, add oil and saute the onions and bacon until the onions start to brown and the fat has fully rendered from the bacon. About 8-10 minutes. Deglaze the pot with 1/4 cup of chicken stock, scraping up the cooked on bits with a straight-edged wooden spoon.
- Add the greens in fistfulls and saute until it has all begun to wilt. Stir in the broth along with the balance of the ingredients, excluding the vinegar. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the greens are very tender. About 1 and 1/2 hours.
- Stir in the vinegar and adjust the salt and pepper. Serve.