Fresh Southern collard greens simmered slowly in smoked turkey-based broth with onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, and vinegar leaving the most delectable potlikker ever.
There are a million recipes for southern collard greens, but not everyone makes good greens. Sometimes it’s because they’re gritty from poor cleaning or too leafy from poor cutting, but more often than not it’s a flavor issue, or better yet a lack of flavor. Note – crockpot greens are watery and bland and too much smoked pork + salty broth + additional salt is you guessed it too salty.
My favorite greens are those that strike a great balance between smokiness, vinegar, and savory (onions, garlic, salt, pepper). The latter is all about that broth that when simmered long with collards renders a ridiculous potlikker or pot liquor depending on where you hail from.
Sky’s the limit with your greens if you start with a great stock. It is through a wholesome and flavorful stock that you can deliver delicious greens that maintain that good for you status that true soul food provides as discussed in my earlier post on the “other soul food.”
Southern Greens Ingredients
For the Greens
- Collard Greens
- White Onions
- Homemade Broth
- Smoked Sweet Paprika
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Cider Vinegar
For the Stock
- Smoked turkey parts (wings, leg, or tails)
- Fresh Thyme
- Bay Leaves
- Garlic Cloves
- Corn Cob
- White Onion
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper
Instructions For Cooking Southern Collard Greens
Char the Onion
Half the onion and peel.
Turn the cooktop burner to its highest settings. Place onion halved side down and burn to a char. Flip and char the other side. Set aside.
For the Homemade Stock
Add 7-8 cups of water to a large stock-pot.
Add smoked turkey pieces, corn, carrots, celery, bay leaf, garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and charred onion to the pot. Bring everything to a boil then reduce to a simmer for at least two hours.
If you have the time or patience, simmer a full day or two or three! If going multiple days, the stock will reduce some a lot. This is good, as it means the flavor will be more concentrated. You can continue to add more liquid and refresh the ingredients which will net you a really dynamic and complex broth. I’m crazy about flavor like that so feel free to ignore me and go with standard 2 hours.
Let the stock cool, then strain into a large bowl or pot. Pull the meat off the smoked turkey bones and reserve for later use. Use the stock immediately or let it sit overnight in the fridge a day or two until ready to use.
Make the Greens
Peel and slice the onions. Pre-heat a large pot on medium-high. Add olive oil then saute the onions 3-4 minutes. Season the onions with a teaspoon of paprika after 2 minutes of cooking. Onions should be fairly tender.
Add about 4 cups or so of the broth plus a pinch of red pepper flakes, molasses, and turkey pieces then mix well.
Add collards to the pot. Stuff as much as you can into the pot. Don’t worry, as the collards cook they will reduce down quite a bit after a few minutes. Once this happens, give them a good stir.
After about 30 minutes add in the vinegar and another teaspoon of paprika. Cook another 30 minutes or so to desired texture. Two hours should be enough for these to tender and full flavored.
The stock should be all you need for flavor, but feel free to season to your preference as you go with black pepper, paprika, and salt. I recommend to taste a few times before adding salt to determine if you really need it. Again this is a preference thing so use my words more as guidance.
The last 20 minutes of cooking I like to add a shot or two more of vinegar or pepper sauce. This gives some briny flavor to the dish. Otherwise, you can let individuals add pepper or hot sauce to their own bowls.
COOKING CONSIDERATIONS AND TIPS
Southern collard greens are all about the Potlikker, which is the leftover broth liquid remaining after the greens have been eaten. There is as much joy in making use of the potlikker as there is eating the actual greens. All those wonderful nutrients that have been cooked out of the greens can be found here. In my house growing up, the elders called it potlikker slang for pot liquor.
My grandmother would often reserve it, and I’d recall my grandfather drinking a few shots every now and then, which I adopted. He also would reduce it concentrating its flavors and maybe add pepper sauce or Worcestershire sauce to it and use to dip veggies into it, sop with cornbread, or use as a sauce/gravy for grilled fish.
Sopping with my grandmother’s hot water cornbread was big.
I personally like to use the potlikker as broth for rice or grits.
What are the keys cooking tips for southern collard greens?
- First and foremost spend the time to clean the greens. Unless you’re buying pre-packaged collards, thoroughly wash the greens. Check that! Even give the bagged version a rinse. Greens typically have all kinds of dirt on them, so take the time and wash them in your sink to ensure of the sandy, earthy grittiness is removed. You’ll thank me later otherwise you’ll get sand in your teeth and that’s not a good look
- Chop the collards in some measure of uniformity. Roughly chopped is fine, you just want to avoid having really big leaves as once they absorb the liquid you’ll end up with mounds or globs of greens which can be a chore to chew
- Make your own homemade broth. Commercial broths are either too salty or bland. Making your own allows you greater control.
- 95% of your effort should be spent on the broth. My greens don’t touch the broth until after about 2 days of broth refinement. Refinement for me includes building the broth slowly letting it simmer for hours, tweaking the seasonings, and allowing for rest to allow the flavors to come together.
- Smoked turkey (wings, necks, backs) are just as flavorful as smoked pork, but have less fat and generally more healthy overall.
- Resist the urge to boil the collard greens; instead let them cook slowly wilting as they cook.
Flavor Tips for making an amazing homemade stock?
- Time is your best friend. Simmer, simmer, simmer, rest, rest, rest.
- Char an entire onion to take your broth from ashy to classy! I literally turn my stovetop burner on high and sit a raw onion directly on the flame until its ashy black, then drop this in my stock. Gas grill or fireplace can be used also.
- Corn on the cob has great umami flavor. Add an ear of corn (husk removed) to your stock base.
- Vinegar is your friend. White, apple cider, or even left-over pickle juice all work great but have slightly different taste profiles as you’d imagine. But at the end of the day, you need some acidity to counter the fat from the smoked meat as well as help with the bitterness in the greens.
- I like to add a combination of sweet and heat. The latter (red pepper flakes) is pretty universal in greens recipes but adding sweetness can incite a fight in some circles. I add some maple on occasion, but always later in the cooking process. Maple has a bit more complexity and compliments the smokiness really well in the same way this plays out in barbecue.
- I prefer to cook the stock either uncovered or partially covered. I find that covered leads to condensation that makes its way back into the stock thus diluting the flavor.
Can you make southern collard greens without meat?
Yes, most definitely. There is no reason why you can’t make great vegan southern collard greens. I do highly recommend you make an enhanced stock to get the complexity and depth from a flavor standpoint. To replicate the smokiness I use dried smoked chilies like a chipotle, Morita, or a combination of the two.
Dropping a few dried chilies in a simmering stock will infuse a more than adequate level of smokiness. But please be mindful of how long you leave the chilies in the stock. At some point, they will breakdown and release the fiery seeds into your greens and overpower everything! You want the smoke not the heat in this case.
For similar recipes like this, try these:
If you make these delicious smoky Southern collard greens, don’t forget to save the best part, the pot liquor. Also, please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.
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For the Greens
- 2 bunch of collard greens de-stemmed, chopped and cleaned
- ½ onion sliced
- 2 tsp smoked sweet paprika
- 4-5 cups of homemade broth or low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 /2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp molasses
For the charred onion
- 1 large white onion halved
For the Homemade Stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 sprigs fresh herbs
- 1/2 large onion charred
- 3 garlic cloves diced
- 1 whole ear of corn husks removed
- 2 large carrots halved
- 2 celery stems halved
- 2-3 fully cooked smoked turkey wings or 1 smoked turkey leg
- 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tbsp black pepper
For the onion
- Turn cooktop burner to highest settings. Place onion halved side down and burn to a char. Flip and char the other side
For the Homemade Stock
- Add 7-8 cups of water to a large stock pot.
- Add smoked turkey, charred onion, corn, carrots, celery, bay leaf, garlic, salt, and pepper, bring to a boil, then simmer for at least 2 hours. I simmer mine from anywhere between 12-24 hours.
- Let the stock cool. Strain the stock into a large bowl. Pull the smoked turkey meat off the bones and reserve for later. Let stock sit overnight in the fridge.
Make the greens
- In a large pot, add a tablespoon of olive oil and the sliced onions. Season with half the paprika. Saute until tender.
- Add in the broth, red pepper flakes, greens, molasses, vinegar, and smoked turkey meat pieces. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for about an hour. Halfway through add the remaining paprika.
- Season to your preference with more paprika, salt, pepper if you feel the need, but the flavor from the stock should be enough.