Cooking Collards 101 with Dad

About 5 years ago, I started cooking collard greens for the family gathering at Thanksgiving, or maybe it was Christmas, I can’t remember which.  All I know is that eventually I became the “green guy” for holiday gatherings that involve food.

Greens are regional, and not even attempted in some parts of the country.  Living in the south, they are a staple at almost every family or work gathering where “home cooking” is involved.   The recipe is about 50% the help of my mom and 50% just some stuff that I came up with.  Often people ask “where did you get that from”.. Hum.. I just made it up.   It tasted good to me, so I kept making it that way. Such is the case here.


Step 1: Pick out a good bunch of greens

Common in the south are collard, turnips, and mustards.  I prefer collards so that is what I use, but I guess this would be about the same with any of the others.    Make sure like they look like they were just picked.  What does that mean?  Well, if they are wilted, yellow, have spots on them or otherwise look weird, then keep browsing.  Depending on how many peeps you want to feed, I usually buy 2 bunches, and each bunch will have about 3-4 heads in it.  This will yield a large crock pot full of greens.

Make sure that you keep them cool, and try to buy/pick them within 2-3 days of cooking them.  The sooner you cook them after they are picked the better.


Step 1a   I call this step 1a becuase it needs to happen in conjunction with step 2,3, 4.  
Before you start with those steps, get the meat going.  Meat??? I thought you said we were cooking greens?
If you don’t have some sort of seasoning to add to the greens while they are cooking, they will taste like cooked weeds from the yard.  While I have never had freshly blanched weeds from my yard, I do have a pretty good imagination, and think that they would be rather bland and nasty.  Plus, I live in the south so all good veggies are seasoned with some sort of meat.  For collard greens I prefer to use ham hocks, but there are many choices here. You can use neck bones, or even turkey necks, smoked of course since that is what give it the flavor.  You are going for the most flavor here….you’ll have to experiment with this one but just about any of them will work.  If you are using hocks as I am, use about 3 for a large pot of greens.
Get just the right about of meat. I use hock as my preferred method of flavoring
So now that you have said meat, place into a large pot, fill with enough water to almost cover the meat and bring to a boil.  Cook the meat for about 45 min or so.  (Not being real scientific here.)  We just want to get all of the flavor that we can out of the meat and into the water, since this is what is going to actually cook the greens.
Step 2: Cut off the stalks
Once you have the meat going, it’s time to cut up the greens and get them ready to cook.  If you thought that we were just going to through them into the pot and boil them, then you would be sadly mistaken.  It is much more involved than that.
From each of the larger bunches of greens we want to cut off all of the stalks a the bottom.  About where the stalk stops having leaves on it, cut that part off an  toss it to the trash.
Step 3 : Cut the middle out
There are many people what will skip this step completely, and I can tell it when I eat their greens.  I won’t say you are wrong if you don’t cut the middle out, but I can tell you that I prefer to do it because it make things taste much better in the end.  What I normally do is take all but the very smallest leaves and cut the middle of the stalk out.

The midrib isn’t much to munch on.  This is the thick vein that runs down the middle of each leaf.  If you cook it, it will be tough, and somewhat chewy. Like I said, I do this to all but the smallest of the leaves.  Those are the ones that are about the size of the coffee stirrer or smaller.  They are small and won’t be noticed once they are cooked.

Cut the large stalk off the bottom, and the midrib from the middle of each leaf. This takes some time, but in the end it will be worth it for the flavor of things
Step 4: cut them up
Take each of the heads, and the leaves that are now left and cut the collard greens up.  Lay them flat long ways  and cut them up about 3-4 inches wide.  The smaller leave that are about the size of your hand, just leave those.  It will look like you are cutting them WAY TOO BIG.. You’re not though, they will cook down to almost nothing, don’t worry.
Cut them up and get them ready to wash. About 6in wide pieces.
Step 5: Wash them, Wash them, and Wash them again
At least 2 good times.  I usually fill up both sides of the sink about half way with cool water.  Wash them in one side, let them sit for a few minutes (while I’m cutting more greens up) and them put them in the other side and wash them again.  If you don’t wash the greens good there will be an inevitable grit taste to them…not something you want infiltrating the thanksgiving lunch.
Wash ’em good.. and again, and again. If you have some help this will move along things much faster.
Step 6:  Stuff the pot
Go back out to the pot (and I say back out because I recommend cooking them OUTSIDE if at all possible) that has the meat in it. Make sure that it is at least 1/3 -1/2 full of liquid.  At this point the meat should be smelling like a smoke house and should be getting “right”.
This is the point where, if you have never cooked greens before,  you are going to question the size of the pot and give me the “yeah right, those ain’t going to fit in there”
Yes they will!  Just take it slow and don’t try to put them all in at one time.
Put as many greens in the pot as you can get without stuffing them in there.  Full, to the top, but we don’t want the lid popping off.. just use your best judgement here. Put the lid on them and make sure they are on about med-med low.
From here let them cook about 15min or so, don’t take the lid off and peek at them until it has been at least 15 minutes.  Once 15 minutes has passed you can look at them… just don’t be afraid, none of them jumped out and headed for the hills, they just got a little dehydrated, and that is what you want.  Now it’s time to add more to the pot.  From here what I usually do is to move all of the partially cooked greens to one side, stuff the other side with uncooked ones, move cooked ones on top, add uncooked ones to that side and then spread out the cooked ones to cover all of the the pot.  What we are going for here is to make the uncooked green (or least cooked at this point) to be on the bottom closest to the fire.  This is not absolutely necessary, but I prefer to do it this way so that in the end all of the green are cooked about the same amount.
You will have to repeat the above process about 3 or 4 times depending on the depth of the pot, and the amount of greens you are cooking.  Each time let the greens cook down about 10-15 min before adding another set.
It is about this point in time that it become apparent that a wider and shallower pot it better than a tall skinny one.  If the pot is too tall and skinny, you will spend a lot of time rotating the greens to get the “new” ones to the bottom while you are adding them to the pot.  This is not ideally what you want, so try and get a pot that is as close to as tall as is is wide.
Here’s the secret….more seasoning
There a thousand ways to do this part, but this is what I use.  It’s a guestimation, because it’s different for each pot that I cook, but it’s a good starting point.  At this point in the cooking process I usually add:
Salt (2-3 tbs to start)
Black pepper (1 tsp)
Tobasco and/or Cyanne Pepper (depeding on your preference)  I use about 10-20 dashes or 5-10 shakes
Maple, Cane, or Regular (Aunt Jemima) Syrup ( about 1/4 cup to start) <—  This is the important part.  This is what takes off the edge and bitter taste.  If you didn’t season the greens at all, they would be bitter and would be what most people think of when they think about green and they say “oh, I don’t like greens they are bitter”.
Tony Cachere’s Seasoning ( I use about 1 tsp to start) – This is sort of optional, but I think it gives it a good flavor.  If you don’t have any/can’t find it in your area, then don’t worry about it.  Just add a little more salt
Once you have all of the greens in the pot, I usually like to let it cook for about 30 min or so.  This is just a very rough estimate.  Might take 45, might take 20.  Just let them cook until they look like they are well cooked, but not mushy.  Taste them for texture.  You will know if they are what you would like to eat .   At this point, check the flavor and adjust accordingly.
You will notice I say “to start” for the seasoning above.  This will vary with what you like, and how much you like to taste a particular flavor.  I can tell you that if you use cane syrup, it is much more sharp tasting and I would use the lesser amount until I figured out what I liked.  The Aunt Jemima is much weaker in flavor, and you will probably need more to make it the right flavor.  Just experiment, you can’t really mess it up.
And last but not least, the most important step of all….  This will make mama happy!
Step 7: Clean up
Clean up Time!
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