When it comes to Southern cooking, collard greens are the soul of the South, and in this recipe for Braised Collards in Hock Stock, I’m getting back to my roots. And with my step-by-step video I’ve included in this story, you can easily get back to your roots as well.
There’s history connected to cooking collard greens in the rural South–my history. My grandfather Quincy Quattlebaum Graham grew collards on a piece of dirt in Newton County in central Mississippi. Tucked away on a back-forty acre among the cotton plantations of the region, he farmed the fertile soil and always said that when times got tough, cotton wouldn’t fill your belly. He loved collards; he praised them, and he braised them just as I do over a hundred years later.
My grandfather died before I was born, so for me, cooking collards is a reconnection to the heritage of my family roots. And the keys to cooking collards that my father taught me is this: a long slow braise with the flavor of smoked meat and a minimum of spice (onions and a sprinkle of salt only) to preserve the potlikker. As a son of the South, I learned at an early age that potlikker (or pot liquor), the natural juices and braising liquids that are like culinary gold, is the prize of any pot of greens (beans, too). My daddy would load up a bowl with a chunk of cornbread on top, and I would watch him soak up that exalted elixir.
In the smokehouses of South Louisiana, smoked ham hocks are easy to find, and the meat clings close to the bone until it lets go of its flavor and infuses the smoky essence of a good stock. It amazes me how much meat is on a pork hock, and after picking the chunks away from the bones, you have a mound of smoked ham to add to the greens.
My Braised Collards in Hock Stock recipe is a two-day process of stock making and collard braising. The reason I make the stock a day ahead is that after I strain off the bones, gristle, and onions, the broth spends the night in the refrigerator to congeal and develop a fat cap. Once the cap is removed, the stock is pure and potent. Don’t throw the fat cap away though; that’s what you’ll use as grease to sauté your onions—a double dose of porky flavor.
For me, this is soul food at its best, and to cozy up to a steaming bowl of Braised Collards in Hock Stock is a deep dive into the roots of Southern cooking that are forever intwined with my humble heritage.
And to make it easy, I’ve included my short video–Collards-The Soul of Southern Cooking–that will take you through the steps of this traditional Southern dish.
- 4 pounds (about 12) meaty smoked ham hocks
- 1 ½ pounds (2 or 3) pig’s feet, cut into segments and washed
- 2 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered
- 1 garlic bulb
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 bunches collard greens
- 4 tablespoons pork fat (reserved from the stock)
- 2 cups chopped yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Hot sauce, for serving
- Wash the ham hocks and rinse off any seasoning. Place in the stockpot along with the pig’s feet, quartered onions, the whole garlic bulb, and bay leaves. Add water to cover or to come halfway up the side of your stockpot; a little over 1 gallon is ideal. Turn the burner on low and let simmer for 8 hours. Turn off the heat and let cool. Strain off the stock into a container with tight-fitting lid; you should have about 1 gallon of stock. Place it in the refrigerator overnight. Pick the meat from the bones and discard any fat or gristle. Reserve the meat for use later.
- The next day, remove the container of stock, and using a large spoon, carefully remove the fat cap from the top of the stock. Reserve 4 tablespoons of the fat and discard the rest. Place the stock back into the refrigerator.
- Wash the collards in cold water, removing any dirt. Cut off the woody ends, and working in rolled-up batches, slice through the greens into 1-inch strips.
- In a large pot or Dutch oven with a heavy lid over medium-high heat, add the reserved hog lard. Add the chopped onions and sauté until they turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the greens and stir them into the onions until they begin to wilt. Add the salt, along with all of the reserved smoked ham hock meat.
- Remove the stock from the refrigerator. With the release of collagen in the bones, the hock stock should now be congealed to the texture of Jell-O, which is a sign of its velvety richness. You do not have to heat the stock before adding it; just spoon it in and watch it melt into the pot. Add half the stock, and reserve the rest to add as the liquid reduces. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and braise the greens until tender, about 2 hours. Add more stock as needed during the cooking.
- Serve in bowls with cornbread and hot sauce on the side.
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