My first taste of collards was at a southern BBQ joint in New York City. And it was indeed just a taste, a snatched forkful from a colleague’s bowl. I remember a smoky flavour from the broth and very soft greens and that snatched taste settled somewhere in my memory, waiting to be recreated. However, finding collards here in the UK has been a difficult task; recently, though, I discovered that they’re very closely related to what are known as spring greens here and it’s these that I’ve used in the recipe. Their descriptions even match – leathery greens of the brassica family with a tough centre stalk. Of course, if you have access to collards, use them!
Finding a ham hock with which to stew the greens also proved to be challenging. While I can count at least 4-5 butchers around my neighbourhood, every one is a halal butcher. There are a couple of English butchers in Chiswick but I wasn’t going to pass the area in time. Luckily, Morrisons came up trumps with a gammon shank, which worked just as well. Of course, I had no idea what to do with it nor how to prepare it and so trimmed away much of the skin before simmering it. In hindsight, I could have probably skipped this. This shank was hardly salty but if you know yours might be, I’d suggest soaking it overnight before use.
I was starting to feel uneasy when the simmering of the greens was at the 30 minute mark (this whole overcooking greens things goes against almost everything I know as a Chinese person) but I overcame the desire to take them off the heat and let them stew for the entire two hours (Lorna pushes them to three hours!). The reward for this perseverance (if you can call it that) is a deliciously soupy stew of very tender, silky greens. The gammon shank doesn’t just flavour the broth (aka pot likker); there’s plenty of meat on that bone and I shred it and dump it back in with the greens. We had ours with cornbread (a traditional accompaniment but my recipe was horrible – need to rectify this) and meatloaf but I think it would be just as splendid by itself in deep soup bowls with a side of good bread.
Oh, and yes, the irony of eating spring greens in the autumn was not lost on me.
“Collard” Greens with a Gammon Shank
750g spring greens
1 large onion, diced
1 gammon shank
1 tsp dried chili flakes
1 tbsp sunflower oil
In a large stock pot, bring quite a bit of water to the boil and when it’s ready, lower in the gammon shank and simmer for 10 minute to remove any impurities. Drain and set aside the shank.
Heat the same (and now empty) large stock pot over medium heat and when hot, pour in the sunflower oil. Throw in the diced onion and dried chili flakes and saute until the onion softens and turns translucent. Return the shank to the pot, allowing it to brown a little on each side.
Pour in enough water to cover the shank and bring the whole pot to the boil. Reduce the heat to keep the water at a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes.
While the shank simmers away in its hot bath, prepare your greens. Separate the leaves from the bunches and wash them thoroughly. Cut or tear away the thick middle stems and then roll bunches of leaves together and slice the rolls into 1-2cm slices. You should be left with a giant pile of strips of spring greens when you’ve finished.
When the 30 minutes of simmering are up, add the greens handful by handful, stirring each preceding handful in until they wilt into the liquid before adding the next. They should just about fit. If not, top up with a little additional water. Bring the whole pot back to the boil and then again leave to simmer half covered for anywhere from one hour to three hours, depending on how soft you like your greens. I left mine for two hours.
When your greens are almost finished, fish out the gammon shank and let it cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, shred the meat off the bones and toss it back in with the greens. You don’t have to do this if you don’t feel like it or you could only add part of the meat (mine had so much and so I only added half of it back and saved the rest for later). Taste the broth for salt and add as required.
Serve in bowls with plenty of the pot-likker and eat with bread or cornbread and chilli vinegar (I had Tabasco) on the side.