It’s time to give collard greens their due
There’s a reason collards are typecast: The hearty greens require that slow cook in salty, porky potlikker to be simmered into submission, and the one-pot preparation has long been a way to deftly stretch cheap ingredients into a nutrient-rich meal. But there’s more to the ubiquitous preparation than meets the eye.
Prior to refrigeration, Southerners had to think of savvy ways to keep foods from spoiling at the hands of air and time. (It’s why we pickle everything from pig feet to watermelon rinds.) Collards are customarily cooked with a fatty hunk of cured meat—ham hock, pork jowl, salt pork. Sure, it provides protein and flavor, but its rendered fat also acts as a preservation method (à la confit), says Atlanta chef Todd Richards, who cherishes collards so much he covered his debut cookbook, Soul (Oxmoor House, 2018), with an image of their suede-soft, dewy leaves. “Air is the biggest culprit of how things spoil,” he says. “Once cooled, the fats would seal the vessel and wouldn’t allow air to reach the potlikker and the greens.”
In keeping with generations of Southern chefs before him, Richards’ recipe aims to waste nothing. He pickles the collard stems, a technique he picked up from his father. “My dad, in his frugal way, didn’t want to throw anything out,” Richards says. “Collard green stems are thick, and can be 25 percent of a collard green plant. It was a way to make sure we utilized as much of the vegetable as possible.”
Richards loves collards for the depth and character they add to dishes. He stirs leftover greens into bowls of ramen or tucks them into bacon and fried egg sandwiches.