Morgan and I are currently collaborating on a book whose working title is “Mago at the Market.” Our idea is to provide advice for folks who wanted to visit markets in the US and Western Europe, shop, chop, and cook. It will include information about the different markets, suggestions on how to make the most of each, where to eat while you’re shopping, and our favorite recipes made from the market bounty.
For example… how about a mess of collard greens. It’s that time of year when collards are plentiful and there is nothing better with fried trout and cornbread. So here is a recipe that we’ll be including in “Mago at the Market” when it comes out later this year.
Morgan is famous for his collard greens. He’s famous for many dishes, actually, but he’s REALLY famous for his collard greens. Folks who are avowed vegetarians set aside years of meatless meals and dig into this southern specialty made with fresh collards, smoked ham hocks, and “likker.”
The recipe below makes a very big pot of greens. You can certainly cut it down to come up with something for one meal, but if you’re going to go through the trouble, who not make a whole bunch? We often make a “mess” of greens, double bag them in gallon freezer bags, pop them in the freezer, and take them out six months later in the dead of winter to reheat. In my opinion they taste even better after they’ve been frozen. It softens them up. Collards also make great left overs. The longer they sit in the refrigerator, the more often you reheat them as the week goes on, the better they get.
- 1/4 cup of regular olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 2 smoked ham hocks
- 4 large onions chopped up
- 1 head of pealed garlic (yep, that’s a lot of garlic)
- 18 cups of stock
- 10 pounds of collard greens, de-stemmed and really, really well washed with cold water
- 3/4 cup cider vinegar
- 3 TBS sugar
- 2-4 TBS salt (you’ll need to be careful depending on how salty the stock is)
- 2 large dried bay leaves
- 1/2 jalapeno pepper (optional)
Q&A on those Ingredients
Patti: Why use regular olive oil rather than extra virgin?
Morgan: Extra virgin olive oil will tend to burn at the heat required to cook the onions. The regular olive oil won’t. You could also use vegetable oil.
Patti: What kind of stock should we use?
Morgan: We want to use home made stock of any kind if we have it. If we don’t, then a good chicken stock from box will do. You need to be careful with the salt, though, and adjust it depending on whether you’re using homemade stock or store bought. Homemade will have less salt and store bought will have more. So add or reduce salt accordingly.
Patti: Should I take the seeds out of the jalapeno?
Morgan: No need, but leave the stem on. You’re going to want to find it and remove it before you serve to guests, so having the stem on makes that easier.
In a large pot (ours was a 12 quart sauce pot with lid), get the olive oil hot, then add the ham hocks, onion, and garlic over medium heat. Cook this mixture until the onions have reduced by half. Don’t worry if they get a little brown, but don’t let them burn. This takes about 15 minutes. At this point, add the stock, turning the heat up to high and bringing the whole pot to a boil.
The Miracle of the Collards
At this point, you begin what I call the “Miracle of the Collards.” You have this large pot, but it’s half filled with stock and the other ingredients and you think to yourself… “Self, there’s no way that all those collards are going to fit.” You have to have faith and a little patience. Put in handfuls of the raw collards until the pot is filled. Then taking some long instrument (long spoon, tongs, anything), smush the collards down into the boiling liquid. In a minute, you’ll see that they’ve shrunk and you all of a sudden have some more room. Carefully move the collards from the bottom of the pot towards the top to mix things up (again tongs help with this step). Keep adding more collards until they all get in there. It is indeed a miracle.
It’s a Matter of Taste
Now is the time to add all of the other ingredients and carefully mix them in. Turn the heat down to medium high, put a lit on it but offset so that steam can escape, then set a timer for an hour. After that hour, taste the greens and continue cooking them until they’re tender (as much as another hour). Also check the “licker” and add more salt, sugar, vinegar or heat to taste.
What is the Likker?
That’s a good question. Likker is the liquid in which the collards are cooked and might just be the best part of the collards. When you get just the right proportions of stock, salt, sugar, cider vinegar and heat, it will bring tears to your eyes. You will definitely want something to sop up the likker, such as corn bread. You can also call it pot liquor if you want to be boring, but I’m from the south and we alway said “likker” and it sounded like “lick her.”