Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Variation on a Theme: New York Collards

I wrote about the way I generally cook greens.  I like spinach, chard, beet greens, even mustard greens and kale cooked with the light saute and barely simmer method.

You may (or may not...) have noticed that I didn't mention collard greens...

I didn't grow up eating collard greens. My mother, somewhat unusually among people we knew,  did cook beet greens in the country (when she could get them,) so I did always know how good they were - but pot greens in general, and collards especially just weren't on  the middle class Manhattan Irish radar. I started buying them from farmer's markets as a young woman, but I cooked them the same way I cooked other greens - and didn't like them. They always were tough and unpleasant... and it took me - well, let's be honest - it took me *years* to accept that the problem was my cooking method. Maybe all those Southerners who boil them were onto something...

So, I started asking around. There seemed a wide variety of precise recipes and methods, but there were constants. Start the same way I do, with sauteing washed greens in  a pan, but perhaps use just a little more fat - enough to be sure all the chopped leaves do wilt in it. And most recipes made it something with flavor - bacon or some such - or added other flavorful meat to the pan - smoked pork or turkey, for example. The big difference, though, comes now - add liquid, usually broth, and simmer for a good while - perhaps half an hour, on a very low flame. And many people then serve them with some sort of hot sauce.

Well, I tried that, and it was certainly an improvement. So I've cooked them like that for several years. But... I don't usually have smoked pork in the house... and... well...

I had hot Italian sausage.  It's a flavorful pork product, it contains fat that cooks out, it even had the pepper built in... I couldn't see any reason that wouldn't work...

I cut up the sausage, and dropped it into my heated pan. Then I chopped an onion, and stirred it in, as enough fat cooked out of the sausage so that the onion wouldn't stick, and could brown. Stirred them both around, as the meat and onion browned.

While they cooked, I washed and chopped my collards, as I did in the Basic Greens. The one major difference is that I do always remove the stems of collards - they're just too tough and stringy.  I didn't have to let as much of the water drip off as I do using the other method - after all, I was going to be simmering them - but I did want most of it off. Then, when they were no longer actively dripping, and the meat and onion were browned, I dumped the collards in the pan. I used the tongs to stir them around very thoroughly. As the collards touch the hot fat, they turn a bright green - very attractive looking. I kept stirring until all the chopped leaves were bright green and slightly wilted. (in the picture, you can see some bright and wilted, and some, at the edges, that are still fully raw.)

Then I added water, heated it up, and let the whole thing simmer. As the greens cook, the color darkens. My goal is to let them simmer (and darken) until tender, but catch them just before they turn a dull olive green, which is overcooked, to my taste. That's fairly personal, though - many people like them that soft. I find it usually takes a bit under half an hour - I check regularly after about 20 minutes.I know that some people do cook them as long as an hour, though.

Then you eat that delicious cooking liquid, as well as the greens.  That's the traditional "pot likker" sopped up with bread or served over potatoes and grits - or rice, in my case, or pasta, or...


1/2 pound hot Italian sausage
1 small onion
olive oil (opt., as needed)
I bunch collard greens, chopped and washed, stems removed

Cut up the sausage and the onion.

Brown the sausage in a large fry pan or saute pan, until fat cooks out. (Depending on your source for sausage - if there isn't enough fat to fully grease the pan, add a little olive oil now.) Add the onion, stir to mix with the meat, and saute over low to medium heat until the meat is browned and the onion starts to turn golden.

Add collards. Stir around with the sausage mixture until coated with fat, and let cook, stirring often, until the leaves are a bright green. Add about a cup of water. Bring to a simmer, and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for about half an hour, until cooked to taste.

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