Collard greens. Every Southerner’s favorite vegetable because, well, it’s about as far away from being a vegetable as you can get. Yeah sure, it’s a leaf that kinda gives people nightmares about spinach, but when it’s cooked correctly it is oh so good.
Normally, I only eat collards when they’re on sale since they’re pretty expensive in the north. But when I make them, boy are they popular. And they’re super simple to make.
As with any good southern dish, we have to start out right. That’s right. We gotta start with the bacon. Heat a pot on medium heat and wait a bit. You really want the pan to be hot before you put the bacon in. They just crisp up better, and they lose more fat that way. And that’s what we’re really looking for here. Bacon fat. The perfect base to any southern dish. Or any dish for that matter.
You can lay it down in batches, but since this bacon’s going to be cooked with the collards anyway, I don’t care about even cooking here, I’m just trying to extract as much fat as I can. So lay your bacon down on a preheated pot that has not been oiled and watch the magic happen. Once your bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan and set it aside to cool for a bit.
Now we can use all this delicious bacon fat to cook up some diced onions and garlic. Just throw them in the pan, stir to coat in the bacon fat and let them sizzle away until they’re semi-translucent. I don’t like to season anything I throw in bacon fat because I think bacon’s already salty enough. But, if you don’t have a high affinity for salt like me and my roommate, you can salt and pepper your onions and garlic after throwing them in the pan.
So while your onions and garlic are cooking and your bacon’s cooling, you should prepare your collard greens.
So these are collard greens. Not kale or swiss chard. I know they all look pretty much the same, but collards really benefit from the long, slow cooking I do. Kale or swiss chard will probably turn out about the same, but swiss chard has a tendency to be a little more bitter than collard greens in my opinion. Kale would be a better substitute, but I think it would need to be cooked longer to obtain the same texture.
Like any vegetable, you need to wash collards before you actually cook them. After which you need to remove the rib of the leaf. It runs up the center of the leaf and cutting it out really just consists of cutting along each side of the rib and pulling it out. After all of the collards are washed and de-ribbed, I just like to give it a really rough chop into thick ribbons. I only cut it across width-wise once. You might think that makes for large pieces of greens later for eating, but collard greens cooks down a ridiculous amount. Cutting them any thinner will make them cook faster, but then they cook down too small for me. But do whatever makes you happy.
Once the collards are all chopped up, I throw them in with the onions and garlic, break up the bacon and throw that in, and then stir to coat the greens in the bacon fat. I sauté all of this for one, maybe two, minutes so that the collards cook down just a little bit. And then, the liquid. For this recipe, since I had leftover cider from the chicken I cooked with it (see Cider Can Chicken). I added about 1/2 cup of cider and 3/4 cup of unsalted chicken broth to the pan. Then, I seasoned the pan with a little bit of pepper and some Creole seasoning (I have a ton left over from something I made a while back so I like to find new ways to get rid of it). I don’t have my own Creole spice mix as of yet, so I typically just use this one. See? There are some things that I take the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach. It’s just a rarity.
With everything mixed up and the liquid boiling, I pop a lid on top of the pot and crack it open a bit to let the steam escape. Leave it alone and let the liquid reduce, which really only takes about 45 min.
After waiting with bated breath for 45 min, you’ll get a beautiful pot of southern-style collard greens with an alcoholic twist. The cider’s not overpowering in this and I think it adds another nice back note to the collard greens.
Well. There you have it. A very southern recipe for when I’m missing my home cuisine. I’m sure there are ways to make this healthier (like omitting the bacon and all the fat and just using olive oil), but where’s the fun in that? Right?
Here’s the condensed recipe for easy referencing. Happy cooking!
Drunken Collard Greens
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 45 min
- 5 slices of bacon
- 1 medium onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 bunch collards
- ½ cup 1911 Hard Cider*
- ¾ cup chicken broth
- 1 tsp. Creole seasoning
- ½ tsp. pepper
In a large stock pot, fry up bacon until desired doneness. Remove from pot and let drain on a paper towel. Add diced onions and garlic and sauté until onions are semi-translucent. While onions are cooking, wash and remove the stem and ribs from collard greens. Roughly chop collard greens into thick ribbons. Add to pot with onions. Chop bacon and add back to pot. Stir to coat everything in the bacon fat and let collard greens cook for ~1-2 minutes. Add to pot the cider and chicken broth. Season with Creole seasoning and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for ~45 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated. Serve.
*Or your favorite cider. If you want this alcohol-free, replace cider with another 1/2 cup of chicken broth.