Great Green Goodness
A big pot of steaming mustard greens is the perfect way to celebrate the New Year – or any occasion – with comforting goodness. Like most things delicious, it all starts with the PORK!
Greens were a staple on the menu at my parents’ restaurant. I took it for granted that there would always be a big vat of delicious greens on the steam table.
Years later, after making many of my own vats o’ greens, I found that this simple recipe could vary alot, depending upon the flavorings and what you did to them. The key was to make a good, rich stock. Too much liquid, and I ended up with a diluted, pitiful stock. Too little liquid, and it was a salty, tangy, jarring mess. Chicken stock, which seemed like a good idea, tasted too…chicken-y. A crock pot, although a time-saver, didn’t yield as rich a stock as stove top simmering did. Smoked neck bones offered less meaty flavor than ham hocks, and certain ham hocks, if too fatty, ended up scattering unattractive pieces of fat throughout the pot. Bacon, the most convenient of the pork products, introduced good flavor, but even the thick-sliced variety didn’t hold enough good pork flavor like the hocks did.
In preparation for this particularly large pot of greens, I found the best form of ham hocks yet: The Boneless Smoked Hock. Although I was skeptical at first about the lack of bone, I figured that, pound-for-pound, the smoked hock meat would hold (and release, over time) more smoked flavor, not to mention providing more edible product. The cut-up pieces of meat also provided more area to brown before adding liquid, another key step I found important to flavoring the stock.
The other ingredients I will often add to taste. I like balsamic vinegar in greens because I find it imparts a rich earthiness over long simmering times, and hot sauce adds a nice, wide spectrum of flavor notes that mellow well with the other aromatics. Salt and sugar can be tricky, as the greens themselves affect the flavor of the final liquor, so hold off until near the end of cooking for a final seasoning check.
And set aside some time to properly wash and drain the greens. There is nothing worse than finding grit in an otherwise delicious bite of greens!
For a big pot o’ greens (about 8 quarts):
8 bunches leafy mustard greens
3 tb vegetable oil
3 lb boneless smoked ham hock, in large pieces
2 large onions, quartered
4 cloves garlic, mashed
2 bay leaves
1 tb brown sugar
1 tb Kosher salt, or to taste
2 ts freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, or to taste
1 tb Texas Pete hot sauce, or to taste
Tear leaves from stems of greens, and cut into pieces about 2 inches wide. Soak, in batches, about ten minutes and drain. Repeat three times, or until all traces of grit are gone. Set aside.
In a large stock pot heat oil over medium heat. Add hocks and brown slowly, tossing to ensure even browning, about ten minutes. Add onions and garlic. Sprinkle a portion of the sugar, salt and pepper over all and continue to cook until onion just begins to turn translucent, about five minutes more. Add bay leaves and enough water to just cover the hocks. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer on low heat, partially covered, for two hours.
After two hours check the stock. It should be rich and flavorful. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Add the greens, a portion at a time, turning gently from bottom to top, until all are wilted and covered with liquid (there should be enough water clinging to the greens to add to the pot; if not, add water). Simmer over medium low heat for about 30 minutes. Season to taste with more sugar, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and hot sauce. Cook until greens are tender, about 20 minutes more.
Enjoy, and have a Happy New Year!