Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Collard Green Stir Fry with Bacon Ends

Growing up, I would always have collards cooked low and slow in an enormous pot of water.  The process would start with stewing smoked pork necks (I liked the necks better than hocks, as they weren't as greasy and made great nibbling for the smoky meat).  The necks would stew for an hour, then the collards would go in for 20-40 minutes, depending on their age and thickness.
North Woods Ranch bacon ends
In short - this was no quick, weeknight side dish.  But collards can be an easy dish that doesn't require a great cauldron of pot likker steaming away on the stove all day.  To cut down the time and prep, I switch out the pork neck bones with bacon ends.

Bacon ends bring the fat, the smoky flavor, and meaty nuggets, but don't require the time commitment of neck bones or ham hocks.  Along with giving the collards a classic porky flavor, research suggests that dark leafy greens retain more of their vitamins when cooked with fat, locking in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K (via NPR and CYWH for two sources).

While the bacon ends are rendering out their fat, strip the tough ribs from the collards.  This dish can actually be made with any dark leafy green, from mustard to turnip greens, or a mix, like collards and kale.  Stack the leaves on top of each other, then thinly slice the greens into strips.  This will help the leaves to cook quicker than wide, egg noodle-like strips.

When the bacon has rendered out its fat, turn the heat up to medium-high.  Add the collards and toss in the hot fat, layering the bacon pieces on top to weigh down and wilt  the greens.  Once the greens have shrunk about half-way down, pour in a 1/2 cup of pork or chicken stock.  This will deglaze the bottom of the pan and shock the greens with a blast of steam.

After about 15 minutes of total cooking time the greens should be fully cooked down.  If you have older or thicker leaves, give them another 5 minutes in the pan to become tender, tasting the greens to see if they need any additional salt.  Some people like vinegar on their greens, but I usually skip it and add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.
There you have it - weeknight collards in about 25 minutes.

Recipe at a glance
- 2 bunches of collards, kale, or mustard/turnip/beet greens
- 8 oz North Woods Ranch Bacon
- 4 oz chicken or pork stock 
-  Vinegar or red pepper to taste

Remove the stems from the greens. Roll the greens up and slice into thin strips, like fettuccine noodles.

Rough chop the bacon, then add to a skillet over medium heat.  Once bacon has rendered out the majority of its fat, 6-8 minutes, turn heat to medium high to crisp up bacon.

Add greens and toss in hot bacon fat. Work bacon on top of the greens to help with the cooking/wilting.  After a few minutes, add the stock and scrape up the bottom of the pan while the stock steams and boils.  This will cause the greens to cook down rapidly.

Once the greens are tender, adjust seasoning and top with red pepper or vinegar, as your taste dictates.