Calling All Collards
It’s spring, and young, tantalizingly tender greens are finally here! Yesterday at the annual opening of our farmers’ market my sweet farmer Rebecca had a heap of the freshest, most delicate collard greens ever. Considering that I’ve had a gorgeous smoked ham hock in my freezer for a couple of weeks, just waiting, the collards arrived none too soon.
It’s funny, because although Shel is the Southerner in our family, collards leave him cold. But the minute I saw that ham hock, nestled among other farm-fresh pork goodies at my favorite butcher shop, I had a sudden, mad craving for collard greens with ham hocks.
Collards like these, so irresistible that I’ve now eaten them two days in a row and still have enough left for another meal, hallelujah and skip the cornbread. I’m sure that back in the hollers where collards are everyday fare, they’d scoff at my raving about first-of-the-spring greens, and my artisan raised and smoked ham hock. They’d probably laugh their heads off at my recipe, which includes
an excellent sherry vinegar that I brought back from Spain, in place of the usual cider vinegar, and my most favorite hot sauce Secret Aardvark Habanero, in place of Tabasco. Let them scoff. If you use the absolutely best ingredients you can find, this humble dish will surprise you by being transcendentally delicious. You may not have exactly what I had, but seek out the best you can get, and your efforts will be well rewarded.
Abra’s Gentrified Collard Greens
2 lbs tender spring collards
1 large smoked ham hock
3-4 quarts water
1-2 T sherry vinegar, to taste
1-2T Secret Aardvark sauce, or your favorite hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste
2 T butter
Place the ham hock in a large saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, remove the ribs of the collards by pulling the leaves off, discarding ribs. Slice the collards into a medium chiffonade.
When the ham hock is tender, add the collards to the broth, cover, and simmer. Traditionally you’d cook the collards for a couple of hours, but with these young collards one hour was enough. Towards the end of that hour add the vinegar and hot sauce. When the collards are meltingly tender remove the ham hock from the pan and pull off all the meat. Sliver the ham and return it, along with the bone, to the pot. You want to have lots of the delicious “pot likker” left, but I removed the lid at this point, raised the heat a bit, and simmered it all together for 20 minutes or so to reduce the broth even further. Just before serving stir in the butter and let it melt. You’re good to go.
People who eat cornbread will want to make some and dunk it in the pot likker. People like me, no carbs people, will want to drink it straight from the bowl. It’s almost worth making just for that final moment of slurping up the spring-green nectar at the bottom of the bowl, but luckily for you, you get to eat the ham and collards too. So quick, rush out while the collards are at their finest, treat yourself to this green gift, and slurp away, with my blessing.