Saturday, May 12, 2007

Collard Greens: The End of the Ham

May 12

You may remember a post a month or so ago about the Dogpatch Ham, the big ole ham that just keeps on giving. Well, I cooked one for Easter and finished off the last of it for lunch today, the day before Mother's Day. (That is, not including a bag of ham slices I've got in the freezer.)

I did a lot of things with the ham, slicing off bits for days and weeks, until there was nothing left but a ham bone with a few chunks of meat clinging tenaciously to it. This I submerged in a pot of water with about a teaspoon of salt, more or less, and a splash of vinegar. The vinegar is good for extracting calcium from a bone -- a nice tip whenever you're boiling anything that has a bone in it. The whole thing simmers slowly for two to three hours, so by then there is no taste of vinegar.

I live in the South where collards are readily available. These odd vegetables are in the cabbage family, but they grow on stalks and have hard stems and a tendency to be buggy, so if you're buying them fresh you have to wash them very well. However, today I found out that they can be purchased pre-cut and bagged just like salads and spinach, so I exercised that option.

If I had bought a fresh bunch it would have been way too big for one person anyway, even though the greens do cook down. And I would have had had the job of chopping off the stems and removing the center vein, rolling the greens into packets of two or three and shredding them as the chefs on the Food Network do with basil, and I would have "chiffonade" of collards, which might be more elegant but is a lot more trouble.

So what I did was empty half a bag of greens into about a cup of ham broth and cook them for about an hour and a half. Even I, who know full well it takes this long, had my doubts and tried them after about an hour, but they were tough and inedible. After the proper cooking time, they were tender and tasty -- and, best of all, there was about a quarter up of the most delicious pot liquor I ever had.

A word about pot liquor, for those of you who have not been introduced to it. Both my grandfathers lived with us for a time at the end of their lives, and they relished the juice from greens more than any part of the meal. I respected both men -- who could not have been more different -- and have a family heritage of old-fashioned eating as a result.

I recommend you make your stocks as tasty as possible, and you'll always have the secret joy of drinking the leftover pot liquor in the kitchen after the meal is done. As Julia Child used to say, "A little something extra for the cook!"

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