Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Midweek Food Musings: The Wonderful World of Greens

Beautiful, full, collard green leaves--
 I know you've seen it just about everywhere lately--and if you haven't seen it, your mom has told you this for years: greens are good for you.  But wow, it's a big world of greens out there! We're so used to sticking to what we know as far as food, but it's great fun to try new things...(I'm a big believer in variety being the spice of life.)  And though I've eaten many different greens, I haven't had the pleasure of preparing as many as I'd like to. So when I interviewed Chef Raymond Jackson of Alvin and friends, and he generously offered to share his recipe for greens, it was my chance to try. 

So I bought 1 bunch of collard greens, and one of mustard greens (the latter has such a wonderful, peppery taste) and was stumped when it came to stemming and cutting. Chef recommends removing the stalks first, rolling the leaves together and then slicing them.  To remove the stalks, I simply folded the large gorgeous leaves in half, pulled off the large stems, and then proceeded with cutting.

As I mentioned, this was my first foray into the world of cooking collard greens. Will I go back? For sure! I also need to confess that I went against my cardinal rule of following a chef’s recipe verbatim the first time I prepare a dish.There were a couple of differences: for one, Chef uses smoked turkey legs (but he said ham hocks are just fine), and blanches his greens and then shocks them in cold water. I skipped the blanching step, but may do it next time. As for you, I leave it up to you! I'm sure you'll enjoy the rich greens, which provided a compelling and tasty backdrop for the tangy-sweet flavors of vinegar, sugar, mustard, beer and hot sauce. The nice thing is that these ingredients don't compete. Collard greens can certainly hold their own. Enjoy!

Serves 6 to 8

1 smoked ham hock
Water or chicken broth
Olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 bottle beer (I used Stella, but next time I might use a darker/richer beer)
1/4 cup apple-cider vinegar
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 pounds collard greens (about two bunches), well washed, stems removed, sliced into 1/2-inch-wide strips (you can substitute/combine turnip, kale and/or mustard greens)
Several dashes of Louisiana or your favorite hot sauce
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the ham hock in a soup pot, and add about a quart of water or chicken stock to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cover. Cook until the ham hock starts to separate, and the meat starts to fall off the bone, about 1 1/2 hours (check water; you want to make sure you always have a couple of inches). Remove ham hock from the stock and, at this point, you can skim the fat by straining through a cheese cloth.  Take the skin off the ham hock and shred the meat, discard the bone, and return it to the rich stock.

Meanwhile, in a heavy sauté pan, heat a bit of oil. Add the garlic and onions and cook until they have softened and are just starting to brown.  Add the beer, vinegar, mustard, and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the amount of liquid is reduced by half, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

Add the stock and collard greens (Chef Raymond says to add them in this order: collard, turnip, kale and mustard) and bring to a simmer. Reduce the temp to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the collard greens have wilted and have lost their brightness and are tender (about 20 minutes but could be more, depending on the age of the greens). Season to taste with hot sauce, salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature with some of the juices from the pan. 

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