Greens on New Year’s Day are an important tradition here in the South. It’s a wish for prosperity in the new year, you see, greens representing the foldin’ money you hope to have in your pocket. Collards are a traditional green and here you can add a little wish for some jangly change in your pocket too with the golden coin-like dumplings. Serve them with some black-eyed peas, and you are in for a year full of good luck.
I know many people who turn their nose up at collards, and I agree that a flavorless collard is not worth the time, so you need to make a nice smoky, porky stock to cook them in, so the greens are well flavored, and the potlikker is mighty tasty too. So here’s a little primer on cooking collard greens. Fresh whole collards are readily available here in the winter. I buy mine at the special Winter Farmers Market, though the good produce stores have them too. A bunch is usually a little bit over a pound. Prepping collards takes a little love, but then doesn’t all good food? I fold my collard leaves in half, cut out the stem from the middle and discard it, the roll up stacks of leaves and cut them into strips, about an inch wide. I drop all these in a big colander and submerge the colander in a sink of cold water. Swirl the greens around, pick up the colander and let the water drain out, then drain the sink and repeat the process three or four times. Shake most of the water off the collards, then they are ready for the pot. Ok, I’ll concede here. Nowadays you can find washed and chopped collards in the bagged salad department at the grocery. I don’t live in your house, so I am not going to know. Though I’d give these a rinse too. If you really can’t find either of these options, look for frozen collards and thaw them according to the package.
Smoked ham hocks are a natural with greens, producing the right smoky pork flavor. You’ll find ham hocks in the smoked meat section of the grocery (usually near the sausage, with the salt pork etc.). Or ask the butcher. I am fortunate to have some really good local farmers that provide naturally smoked ham hocks, which are ideal. Read the labels, some “smoked” hocks really just have smoke flavoring added and these are not very good, as they produce a sort of metallic taste. If you can’t find real smoked ham hocks, use real smoked bacon or hocks that have not been smoked. I love field peas and beans cooked in smoked pork stock, so when I get my hands on some good smoked hocks or bones from smoked ham, I make a big batch of stock (just cooking the meat and water) in a slow cooker and freeze for use whenever I want that great Southern flavor.
So if any of this seems like a lot of work on New Year’s Day, never fear. You can make the pork stock a day ahead (or months, as I said above). Cool and refrigerate the stock with the hocks still in it, then reheat, remove the hocks and proceed. You can prep the collards a day ahead too. Trim, cut and wash them, shake out the water and put them in a plastic bag with the top loosely tied in the crisper drawer.
Corn bread is the traditional accompaniment to greens, but I also like to make a nice golden dumpling to simmer in the luscious potlikker. The dumplings just soak up that flavor.
Green and Gold Collards
For the Collards:
2 nice big hunks of smoked pork hock (about a pound)
8 cups water
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Lots of fresh ground black pepper
1 bunch of collard greens (a little over a pound), cleaned and cut (see above)
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon sugar
For the Dumplings:
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone ground
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup buttermilk
2 Tablespoons shortening or lard, melted
Pepper Vinegar, for serving
For the Collards:
Drizzle a tiny bit of oil in the bottom of a 7- quart Dutch oven and heat over high. Add the ham hocks and brown the sides as best you can. Hocks are a funny shape, so this is not a perfect science. When you’ve got some nice brown, pour in the water and scrape up and any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the diced onion, red pepper flakes and a really nice grinding of black pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan and cook for about two hours, until the meat is falling off the bones of the ham hocks. Remove the hocks to a plate.
Turn the heat up under the hock stock, and when it begins to boil, add the greens by big handfuls, stirring each addition until the greens turn bright green before adding the next handful. When all the greens are added, bring the pot to the boil. When the stock is bubbling and the collards are shakin’ in the pot, reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes.
Mix the vinegar and sugar together, and after the greens have cooked for 30 minutes, stir it into the greens and cover the pot. Continue cooking for about another 15 minutes, but if your collards are not going nice and soft and dark green yet, add 10 more minutes or so until they do. Make the dumplings at the end of that cooking time.
For the Dumplings:
Sift the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the buttermilk and melted shortening and stir just until everything is combined and moistened.
Take the top off the collard pot and bring the stock back up to a boil. Drop heaping tablespoons of the dumpling batter into the pot, cover and cook another 15- 20 minutes, until the dumplings are cooked through.
While the dumplings are cooking, pull the meat off the ham hock bones and shred it with a fork, removing any skin. Stir into the collards right before serving. Add a little salt if you want, though that hock does a lot.
When ready to serve, scoop the collards and dumplings into big, deep bowls and spoon over the potlikker. Pass a bottle of pepper vinegar or some hot sauce.
Try this Pink-Eyed Pea Pepper Pot recipe with black-eyed peas if you want a non-pork accompainment to these collards.