One "must have" side dish for any of our fall or winter holiday meals is collards. If you have never eaten fresh collards, cooked by someone who knows collards, then you need to try them at least once. It can be difficult to cook them correctly if you don't know what the end result is supposed to taste like but I have done the best I can here to walk you through it. BTW, this is my way of cooking collards, there are other ways out there and I am sure they are equally delicious, but this is how I was raised cooking them.
First, you need fresh collards. They should not look wilted or limp and shouldn't have any brown edges. I have found that about one pound per person is plenty. I also suggest you have some hot pepper vinegar on hand. This is just apple cider vinegar that has had red cayenne peppers soaking in it for at least several weeks in the refrigerator. Many true collard connoisseurs will insist on it. lol
There is also this thing about a frost hitting them. Collards need to be in the garden during at least one good frost in order to taste good. If yours are grown locally and your area has had at least one frost you should be in good shape. If not you can add a bit of sugar while cooking to help eliminate any bitterness.
Once you have purchased your greens you will want to keep them refrigerated until ready to cook.
Take them out and begin washing them. You will want to rinse each leaf individually as they are often sandy.
Now you will remove any large stalks that run down the center of the leaf. Just hold the leaf in your left hand while stripping the leaf down with your right hand. The leaves toward the center of the plant will have tender stalks and won't need stripping.
Now you are going to need some "seasoning", and I don't mean salt and pepper. You will need some sort of meat seasoning. I prefer to use what's known as fat back, fried out to get drippings. But you can also use some sort of smoked meat like ham hocks or smoked neck bone, add about 1/2 pound per large bundle of greens directly to the cooking water.
|Slices of fat back just beginning to cook|
Then you will add water, salt, pepper, and sugar if needed directly to the pot, leaving the cooked pieces of fat back and drippings in the pan. I added 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1 tablespoon sugar to 2 pounds of collards. You should adjust these as needed.
Next add the cleaned collards, they will "cook down" quite a bit, meaning that as they heat up and wilt they will take up considerably less room in the pot. You will be amazed at how much the volume will be reduced.
Cover and let simmer for about one hour.
Remove from the pot and cut up with a large sharp knife.
Remove to a serving bowl using a large slotted spoon and serve.
- If you wish to cut up the greens before cooking you can stack the leaves about 5 or 6 at a time, roll them up, and then cut into strips about 1/2" - 3/4"
- Some like to add some red pepper flakes for a little zing