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Once the first frost kisses the collards, they are ready for picking. We get entire plants, cut at the base like cabbages from certain roadside stands & use 'em all! Big flat heavy leaves are every bit as good as tender inner leaves if done right. Some folks cut out the center ribs on the bigger leaves - we prefer to string out the strings & snap the stems up. We were also taught not to cut a collard, they are to be torn after soaking in 3 sinkfuls of water to remove any grit. Start the braising pot a the evening before cooking collards, to give the ham hocks time to cook down. Don't be daunted by the amount - collards do cook down a lot! Remember to serve with cornbread to sop up the pot liquor - this can be a full meal for collard lovers. Dig in! For the pork averse, 5 or 6 smoked turkey wings may be substituted but they lack tha "jes right" flavor of ham hock. Interestingly, ham hock is very low in fat & provides more flavor in the form of gelatin (like oxtail) - apparent only after chilling the pot liquor! ***make a big batch as these freeze great in freezer bags for later use***
- Using large nonreactive pot, bring water, vinegar, salt, red pepper flakes & ham hocks to a boil.
- Reduce heat to simmer, cover pot & simmer 2 hours until ham hocks are falling apart.
- Cool liquid & ham hocks.
- Pick bones from meat & skin - chop both roughly & return to pot.
- Bring liquid to simmer & lay the collard stalks in the bottom of the pot. Next layer in the torn leaves, putting the largest, thickest on the bottom above the stalks & finish with the tender innermost leaves. There should be about 4 cups of liquid in the bottom of the pot - not all the leaves are submerged!
- Gently braise collards with lid on pot for an hour. Low heat is key - high heat causes release of sulfur compounds (as same other members of Brassicaciae family -cabbage, broccoli), stirring occasionally.
- Expect the leaves to initially brighten & then slowly turn a dark forest green - and smell really good!
- Add additional heat with pickled peppers or Texas Pete (made in NC) hot sauce & vinegar as you wish at the table - Mmmmmm good! Freezes well in freezer bags.
This recipe is collards the way collards are supposed to be! This is the way my grandmother always made them, and the only way I will make them! Thanks for sharing, Buster's friend!