Saturday, January 2, 2010

Southern Traditions

Well, here we are in 2010! I hope everyone survived the holidays without too much trauma. The Gnu Herd stayed home for New Years Eve, watching the NYC festivities from the warm comfort and relative safety of the living room. We toasted the end of 2009 with a little bubbly and then collapsed in bed. Yeah, we're gettin' old.

On New Years Day, we fixed the traditional Southern New Years Feast, commemorating our hopes for health, prosperity and fortune by means of ham hocks, collard greens and black-eyed peas. With cornbread. Gottta have cornbread for sure.

Many people avoid collard greens because of the bitter taste and the smell they make when you cook then. I contend that this is due to a lack of cooking technique. So with that in mind, I'll share with you my method for cooking up a good ol' mess o' greens:

Larriken's Mess O' Greens
Serving size: 1 Mess
Serving location: 1 Mess Hall (Sorry, couldn't resist)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

1 Lb fresh Collar Green leaves, prepared as directed below
1 small Ham Hock or 6-8 oz Salt Pork, diced
1 Small Onion, diced
1 Tbsp Minced Garlic or 3 fresh Garlic Cloves, minced
1/4 C Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tbsp Kosher or Sea Salt
1-2 Tsp Cracked Peppercorns or Coarsely Ground Pepper (I use the McCormick Peppercorn Medley Grinder because it has better flavor than your standard-fare black pepper and I can adjust the grind)

Collards - Don't buy them in a damn can, get the fresh ones they sell at the farmer's market or the produce section. Prepping collards is easy. Separate the leaves and wash them. Lay each leaf "face down" on a cutting board so that the stem is sticking up. Take a sharp, smooth-edged knife and cut the leaf from the base towards the tip following the edge of the stem as if it were a spine. Repeat on the other side so that you have two leafy halves. Throw away the stem (or feed it to your pet rabbit if he likes 'em.) Take a handful of the leaves and roll them into a Cuban cigar. Don't smoke 'em, just cut the roll across so you have slices of leaves in 1/2 inch strips. Pile the leaf strips into a colander and wash the whole mess o' greens once more to remove any residual sediment. Drain and pat dry.

Everything else - If you are watching your salt intake, here's a cool substitution tip for ya: Instead of salt pork, which is, oddly enough, salt cured with pork - no wait... Ahem.. moving on, instead of salt pork you can substitute a thick slice of regular, uncured ham. Marinade the diced ham in a lighter serving of Kosher salt or Sea salt to your preferred level of salinity for 30 minutes prior to cooking. I like to use Kosher or Sea salt instead of regular salt because the flavor is stronger per ounce so you don't need to use as much. Once you've settled on your choice of ham to use, put all the other ingredients except the collards into a small bowl and mix well. Let them marinade for a few minutes while you heat up the skillet.

Heat a large wok or high-walled skillet to medium-high. Mix all ingredients except for the collards and saute for 5 minutes to sear the ham and sweat the onions. Add the collards and toss the leaves to coat them with the olive oil, ham fat and vinegar. They will start to wilt and reduce over the next 5 minutes. Once the collards leaves have started to turn soft and bright green, pour just enough water to cover them, about 2-4 cups. Cover the skillet with a lid and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer for 1 hour until the leaves are soft, sweet and tender.

Once done, strain the collards from the skillet and turn the heat up to high to reduce the liquid remaining in the pan into a special gravy we Southerners call "pot liquor." Give the pan a good 5 minutes at a rapid boil, stirring constantly until the liquid is reduced by almost half. Serve with dinner in a gravy boat. This is good over mashed potatoes, meats and dipping for breads. It also makes a good stock for soups and is full of vitamins and good flavors.

Serve the collards hot with a side of black-eyed peas, ham steaks, and corn bread. Enjoy!

Southern tradition holds that collards represent good fortune or prosperity in the form of money, since they resemble folding greenbacks. Ham is for good health and the black-eyed peas are for good luck. The corn bread is just plain good eats no matter what. This is the traditional first meal served in the New Year. Enjoy and all the best for 2010!

1 comment:

E. S. Collins said...

You had me at cornbread.