During all of the years we lived in Texas, I never learned how to make collard greens, even though it was a dish I loved to eat with fried chicken.
Our favorite fried chicken purveyor in Fort Worth was one of those hole-in-the-wall, run-down cafeterias on the wrong side of the tracks. Their fried chicken was to die for and so were the collard greens.
Every year before the Fort Worth Symphony’s July Fourth concert at the botanical gardens, I would call in a large order and invite friends and family to the concert and provide the fried chicken and collards from this cafeteria. The guests would bring blankets, lawn chairs, sides and dessert, and we would spread ourselves on the lawn while listening to the symphony concert and enjoying the fireworks finale.
It wasn’t until we moved to Oregon that I actually mastered collard greens, from a true southerner who had moved here. Mary Irby Jones is from Mississippi and had learned to make collards from her mother. When I told her I wanted to learn to make them, she offered to come over to show me her mother’s secrets.
According to Mary’s mother, several things go into making good collard greens. First, you always use some bacon. Second, you always remove the tough stems that run down the center of each leaf or you will end up with tough bits in your collards. And last, a family secret, a touch of baking soda to subdue the underlying bitter nature of collards.
So now, whenever Charles is contemplating fried chicken for dinner, I always receive a request to whip up a batch of collard greens to go along. Making collards is a little time-intensive, and it’s difficult to make a small batch, but they’re insanely simple to make. I always make a big batch and freeze half of it. The collards will reheat well after freezing.
Serves 8 (or you can freeze half of the recipe)
- 8 strips apple wood-smoked bacon, sliced into small pieces
- 2 medium sweet yellow onions, sliced into 1-inch chunks
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) cooking oil (Mary’s mother uses rendered pork fat)
- 15-20 collard leaves, stems removed, sliced into 1-inch strips and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) baking soda
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml.) salt
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) balsamic vinegar (Mary’s mother uses cider vinegar)
- 64 ounces (1.89 l.) chicken broth
- In a large stockpot over medium heat, sauté bacon until strips begin to brown and give off their oil.
- Add onions and oil and sauté until onions begin to turn translucent
- Add collards, one handful at a time, stirring until the greens wilt, and then add another handful until all collards have been added.
- Add baking soda, salt and vinegar and stir well.
- Add chicken broth. Once mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.