1 Smoked Ham Hock and at least 1 Cup Cooking Water
2 Bunches Collard Greens
4 Cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
Cleaning Collard Greens is the most difficult part of cooking them. They are filled with sand and dirt, and it doesn’t matter if you season them to perfection, biting down on that grit will ruin your day (trust me). You start by removing the large, tough part of the collard’s stem. People often make the mistake of removing the entire stem, but you want to leave some of the stem to help with the depth of flavor in the pot liquor.
Once the tough part of the stem is removed, it’s time to chiffonade. Stack a bunch of leaves on top of each other and roll them tightly. Cut the collards into 1/2-inch sections, and place them in a sink full of cold water. Let them stand for a few minutes, then use your fingertips to gently move them around. This allows for all the dirt and grit to fall to the bottom of the sink. Carefully using your fingertips, remove the collards and place them in a large bowl or container. It’s important that you scoop them with your fingertips so that you’re removing only the greens and leaving the dirt behind in the bottom of the sink.
My mom’s general rule of thumb was to repeat this process until the water is no longer green and no sand and grit could be seen or felt in the bottom of the sink. That usually takes three to four washes, then she’d do one more for good measure.
Kat Tip: Once your Collard Greens have been properly cleaned, you can store them in freezer bags and freeze them until you are ready to cook them. Being able to prep them beforehand saves you a lot of time the day of cooking.
Once thoroughly cleaned, it’s time to cook up the greens. You’ll need one ham hock for every two full bunches of greens. From the previously prepared ham hocks, add one of them to a large pot with at least a cup of the congealed cooking water. Add a 1/3 of the cleaned greens, one tablespoon of salt, and one tablespoon of sugar. Repeat this layering process until all the greens are in the pot, then add the chicken broth. It’s not necessary to cover them with the liquid because they will cook down considerably.
The greens will first turn bright green, and as they continue to cook and become tender, will deepen in color. Once they reach a dark green color, you can continue to simmer on low on the stove top or transfer them to a slow cooker to continue cooking. For super tender greens, they should simmer or slow cook for at least two hours.
My grandmother always served her greens with the whole ham hock in them; I prefer to break them apart before serving though. Simply remove the ham hock from the pot of greens, and allow it time to cool in a separate bowl. Using your hands, remove the bone and fatty layer of pig skin and pull apart the meat of the ham hock. Return the ham hock meat to the pot of greens and stir to incorporate it into the greens. Season the pot of greens with more salt, if needed, before serving.
The only thing left to do is enjoy this southern staple; serve them up to guests with some vinegar, hot sauce, and/or pepper sauce.