So, if you didn't know this already, we Southerners are pretty set in our ways when it comes to cooking certain dishes. Oh, we’ll eat it your way and be polite about it but we’re secretly talking smack about it under our breath.
Don’t that heifer know you don’t use salad dressing in potato salad?
Sweet baby Jesus, did she seriously put sugar in the macaroni and cheese?
She used buttercream frosting on that red velvet cake instead of cream cheese. Bless her heart.
And cooking greens is no exception. We all do it differently. I've seen more than one Southern food “expert” on television cook them in ways that made me grasp my chest and lean up against the door frame for a minute.
I’m going to tell you how I cook them. This is how I was raised to cook them. And this is how I like them best!
Southern Style Collard Greens
1-2 bunches fresh collard greens
5 strips bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 tablespoons additional bacon grease*
1 onion, diced
Salt to taste
Wash and prep:
When I get collards, they’re usually given to me by someone who grew them in their own garden so I have to take extra care when cleaning them (it's not uncommon to find leaves, pine straw, dirt or maybe even a small critter in the bag).
Start by tearing each leaf off the stalk and placing the leaves in a clean sink full of cold water. Plunge the leaves several times into the water to clean them. Discard the stalk and any other debris. Drain the sink and rinse well.
One-by-one, trim the center rib (midrib) from each leaf, cutting each leaf into two halves, discarding the rib. Add the leaves back to the sink and fill with cold water again to ensure they’re clean. Drain collards. A lot of folks skip this step but I think taking the time to trim that thick, fibrous rib out ensures your collards will be tender and not bitter.
Place 6-8 leaves in a stack and roll tightly (like you’re rolling a cigar). Slice roll into 1 1/2 inch ribbons. Continue the process with remaining collards then set aside until ready to cook.
Using the biggest skillet or widest pot you have (that has a lid), cook bacon and bacon grease over medium-high heat, uncovered, until bacon is almost crisp. Add onions and continue cooking until onions are translucent and bacon is crisp.
Add as much of the collards as will fit in the skillet and toss to coat in the bacon drippings. Cover skillet with lid and let collards cook down (wilt) for 2-3 minutes. Add more collards and repeat this step until all collards are in the skillet.
Reduce heat to low, salt to taste and continue cooking, covered, for about an hour or until collards are as tender as you like them; stir occasionally.
If your collards don’t put off enough pot liquor (rendered liquid from the greens), add chicken stock or water, 1/4 cup at a time, to ensure there’s a little liquid (maybe a 1/4 inch) in the bottom of the skillet at all times.
This is a basic recipe. Lots of folks like to add other seasonings such as red peppers, garlic, red pepper flakes, currants, sugar, vinegar, etc. Feel free to add anything that suits your fancy. I will sometimes add a pinch of sugar and a splash of vinegar but for the most part I like them plain and simple the best.
Collards are typically served with pepper vinegar on the side.
*Substitute vegetable oil for bacon grease if necessary then ask the Lord to forgive you for throwing out your bacon grease.
**I have absolutely no idea if this is true or not but I've always heard not to cook collards until after the first frost to ensure they’re not bitter.