*Making the dreaded rutabaga look positively innocuous by comparison
I got collard greens last week. These were on my list of terrifying items I was hoping would never show up, but knew in my heart were unavoidable. Well the day came, and here I am with this massive bunch of prehistoric-looking leaves.
I’m not afraid of ’em though. Here’s me giving bunny ears to the greens…
So we’ve made friends with the collards, now what to do with them. I was told by several people to just sauté them with some garlic and bacon, but I had heard that simmering them was “authentic”, so I decided to give that a try. To say that this is outside my wheelhouse is a comical understatement. It involves collard greens which I have never actually seen in person before, and ham shanks/hocks, which I was blissfully unaware existed prior to this undertaking. I went with this recipe for collard greens from the lovely people at Putnam Farm. I followed it as closely as possible. Check out their page, they have lovely pictures and very well-written instructions.
So we have the collard greens. Check. Now we need the ham shank-hock-thing. Really, I was on the lookout for ham hocks. Not as easy to find as you would think. They have ham shanks, and pork hocks, but not ham hocks. What is the difference, you ask. I didn’t know either. I actually got some pork hocks before having a mini-crisis of confidence. I don’t even know what a hock is. Or a shank, for that matter.
Well, having looked it up on every question-and-answer website there is, I was a still little unclear, but apparently pork hocks taste funny. Not what we’re looking for. So I checked with the experts: I zipped over to the butcher that just opened up down the street from me. The guy was very nice and set me straight. A ham is essentially the back side of a pig’s hip/rear. The shank is the front and everything below the hip down to the lower leg. The hock is the area where the leg connects to the foot. If pigs had ankles, it would be the ankle.
And the difference between ham hocks and pork hocks is that ham hocks will taste like ham, because they are smoked and cured etc, while pork hocks have less done to them and their package says, “liquid smoke added”. It’s amazing the things you can learn just by asking an actual person who knows. So. Back to the ham hock search. Fruitless. Hockless. Nothing. The aforementioned butcher didn’t have such things. The supermarket only had pork hocks and ham shanks. Whole Foods was willing to sell me one hock for $16. Not happening. A very nice fellow at the supermarket suggested I get a spiral-cut ham, which was cheaper than a shank, but I felt a little bad cooking the hell out of a ham that was meant to go straight to the table for a special family meal.
I ended up going with a shank. What’s a shank look like, you ask? See below.
So we’ve got the greens, we’ve got the ham product. Let’s do this!
My Trusty Roommate Chad let me use his massive Dutch oven for this recipe. And several tablespoons of bacon fat. Here’s how it all went down. An onion was sliced. It was put in the Dutch oven with the bacon fat and cooked.
The ham shank was…frankly, hacked to pieces.
It was then added to the onions with some garlic and several cups of water.
That simmered for an hour while I wrestled with the greens. They don’t go quietly. The logistics are certainly different. Here was my first effort at washing one leaf, using a colander.
I gave up on that pretty quickly and used the whole sink to drain the leaves. And even that was a stretch.
Anyway, I got them washed. Then you cut out the stalks. The stalks looked like tree branches. No way were these suckers ever going to be chewable, no matter how much you cook them.
So you cut up the greens and add them to the developing broth and let it all cook for another hour. I saw recipes that called for the greens to be simmered for at least an hour and a half. I think if I were testing a plant for edibility, and I cooked it for an hour, and it still wasn’t chewable, I probably would have just given up. Luckily others saw fit to press on.
Anyway, in it all goes! Now, you saw the ham shank-carnage earlier. Things got a little out of control. Luckily, the canine sous-chef was there to clean up the floor, the cabinets, and would have taken care of the counter too if I hadn’t beat him to it with the sponge.
So an hour went by. Next you take the shank out and pick the meat off it, then return the meat to the pot with some spices (cumin, pepper flakes…). Happily I remembered to shut the bedroom doors, because the entire house smelled like ham at this point. I’ve said it in reference to other recipes, but I’ll say it again. The smell of something cooking is lovely until you try to go to bed that night and your room smells like, well like ham, for instance. Anyway, here is what it looked like at the end of things.
I had no idea what these were supposed to taste like because I have never had them. Happily, my roommates had, and they were able to tell me that these tasted pretty much exactly how they should. A little salty, but that’s not the fault of the recipe, so much as the gigantic slab of ham I used to make it. As for myself, a few bites was enough, it’s just not my thing. But apparently it all worked, so dammit, I’m putting one in the win column!
By the way, here’s the rutabaga I got this week as well. Seriously, this thing is a big as my face: