Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Mess of Greens with Pot Likker

It's a crazy thing, but they (we?) don't eat greens in the North. Perhaps if you are at a Southern theme restaurant or lucky enough to have some friends with Southern roots, you'll score . Collard greens in particular are a hardy vegetable and could easily be grown in the North. I've heard from many reliable sources that a frost actually improves the flavor of collard greens. It's surprising that they aren't more popular. There is a bit of prep work involved with cooking a mess o' greens but collards are incredible nutritious and really delectable. And the likker, oh it's just scrumptious.

Like the "liquor" from oysters, "likker" is precious and full of flavor (especially for dunking cornbread).   It is the marriage of a broth made of simmering meat (typically pork, but really most any flavorful scraps will do) , a bit of onion, and in my case a hot pepper with a large quantity of greens. What starts out as a gigantic sink full of never ending collards cooks down into a slurpy, heady, delicious "mess of greens".

I buy collards at roadside stands here in the South for less than a dollar per pound. The leaves are giant and a beautiful, deep green. The "ribs" must be removed (along with the stems). You can save these for another preparation, as the tough stalks are not welcome in the pot today. Use a sharp knife and run it along each side the center rib. Stack the leaves on one another, roll up in a cylinder and slice 1-2" slices. You'll have nice ribbons (chiffonade) of collards. MTAOSC's recipe calls for five pounds of greens. It will fill up your sink for rinsing!

Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking suggests using salt pork, streak o' lean, smoked neck, or other cured pork. I had a nice amount of hog jowl left from Hoppin' John and I wasn't about to let it go to waste. I couldn't have been happier with the result. The well cooked pork slices were like buttah after a long simmer. WARNING: highly addictive, add a few extra slices for the cook.

Yup, hog jowl.

Hog Jowl is the cheek meat of the piggie that has been smoked and cured. The cheek meat is tough due to all that chewing muscle, but after the smoking and curing, it's delectable. You can use jowls as you would bacon. I fry it crisp for breakfast with an egg and biscuit. I use it to flavor soups and stews. It's wonderful for larding meatballs or meatloaves. It was an excellent lubricant for my Christmas Day country pate as well! A true perk to living in Charleston is the availability of hog jowl at the local supermarket. A good butcher or market can easily order this for you. It can be frozen, so get enough to keep you in jowls for a while.

Into a giant stockpot goes a a half gallon of water, onion, and a spicy cherry pepper. This is boiled for a half hour to make a flavorful base to cook the greens. Add the massive heap of greens to your stock and stir, pushing the greens below the hot broth. You'll be amazed at the volume change as the greens submerge! It becomes much more manageable in just a minute or so. Now you simmer for as little as an hour or up to three hours, depending on the maturity of the greens and your personal taste. I like my greens well cooked, nice and tender. I went the entire three hours, stirring occasionally. Vinegar is often found in collard greens. I love it but hate the way is discolors the vibrant green leaves, so I opt to serve hot chili vinegar and hot sauce along side the greens. Season the pot with salt & pepper. It can take quite a bit of seasoning, so don't be shy. Extra hot sauce is welcomed here as well.

You now have A Mess of Greens with Pot Likker (pg. 206 in Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking). Yay!

You can strain the greens and save the Likker for stock, or serve together with a savory cornbread for dunking. I gilded the lily and added rendered bits hog jowl as garnish. You can see the bits of meltingly tender jowl that stewed away with the greens as well as the crispy bits in the pic. Sigh.

This makes, as Ms. Dupree would say, "a gracious plenty" of greens that can be frozen.




  1. Likker? I barely knew 'er!

    Wow, that looks amazing!

  2. Ham hock works well, too. But if you are health conscious, a piece of smoked turkey wing will do the trick.

  3. Mr. D-Crazy timing. I was just at a local market where GIANT ham hocks (cryovac'd) were only $3 each! I bought two for soup but I will surely use one for greens now. Awesome.

  4. Very cool! As a kid, I thought they looked like pork iceburgs in greens.

    1. That must be Hank. Mr. Downtown now? So fancy! ;)

    2. 'Tis! It goes with my top hat and monocle.