Just Don’t Call It Pot Liquor

What’s the best part about cooking collard greens with some ham? It might very well be the salty, beautiful broth that results from an hour on the stove. The pot likker. From the recipes that abound on the web, there are quite a few ways to go about coaxing this balm of balms from greens and ham, and all of them sound delicious.  People feel very strongly about the stuff, and I tend to agree. Scrape your knee?  A cup of pot likker will make you forget all about it. Have a bad night’s sleep? Have some pot likker. Nasty breakup? Just get fired? See a mouse in your house?  Pot likker!

Seriously though, this liquid gold is the equivalent of (and some may even argue the superior to) chicken noodle soup when it comes to warming, healing, homemade goodness.

So am I embarrassed that I’ve only made it myself for the first time last week? Totally. But I’ll make it again soon, and you know what’s great when you’re red-faced from shame? Pot likker. And a glass or two of ice water.

Just Don’t Call It Pot “Liquor” Recipe

2 large bunches organic collard greens
Small (fist-sized) cooked ham shank (I’m going to try raw next time, or a different type of ham bone if the butcher has it, just to experiment)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Teaspoon kosher salt
Half teaspoon red pepper flakes

Remove the larger chunks of meat from the ham shank bone and cut into small cubes.

Wash the collard greens and lay them out flat, stacking a few leaves on top of each other. Cut lengthwise down the stack of leaves along the thick stem, which can be discarded. (Or cooked? I’m not sure if these are too fibrous or if they turn out well from an extended cooking time). Roll up the cut halves of the leaves (like a jelly roll) and cut into smaller (1-inch) strips.  Continue this until you’ve gone through all of the greens.

Heat a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven to medium heat, then add the ham shank cubes and bone.  Cook over medium-low heat until the fat starts to render and the meat begins to crisp. Add the collard greens and smashed garlic, and continue to cook and stir until the leaves turn a bright green, around 2-3 minutes.

Add enough water to just cover the leaves, then mix in salt and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until your apartment smells like heaven and the greens are completely tender and the rest of the meat has fallen off the hame bone (approximately 1 hour). What results is a pot full of love.

Spoon over polenta, white beans, or rice, have it next to a sweet potato, or eat by itself from a bowl with a hunk of good bread. We used the leftover pot likker as the starting point for a strange soup of leftovers, and it was delicious.

Spiced Tomato Sauce That Works Hard

Here’s a versatile, thick sauce that goes well with just about anything. We’ve enjoyed it with lentils, a drizzle of plain yogurt mixed with lemon juice and fresh herbs, Andouille sausages crisped in a skillet or on the grill, and with various grains and starches – pasta, brown rice, quinoa, polenta.  The red pepper flakes and paprika give a nice, warming heat, and the cinnamon adds a hint of exotic spice without overpowering the sauce.  It can serve as a end-of-summer appetizer on thick slices of toasted bread with shavings of pecorino, or establish itself in your fall and winter repertoire as a healthy, warm and filling side or main. And as with all great tomato sauces, the flavors continue to develop in the refrigerator if you have leftovers.

Spiced Tomato Sauce

Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized onion
4 cloves of garlic
Red pepper flakes
Spicy paprika
Madras curry powder (if you have it)
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 large can diced tomatoes (San Marzano if you have them)
1 bay leaf

As you heat a large skillet, mince the onion and garlic.  When the skillet is hot, add a drizzle of olive oil, then the onion. Saute for a few seconds, then add the garlic. Sprinkle on red pepper flakes and spicy paprika to taste, add a hefty pinch of salt and few cracks of the pepper grinder. When the onion is translucent, move to one side and add the tomato paste; continue to cook until the paste turns a darker shade of red, then stir it with the onion/garlic mixture. Add the can of tomatoes and the bay leaf, turning down the heat to a simmer.

Once the liquid has reduced by a few tablespoons (about 10 minutes), sprinkle on the cinnamon (I used a quarter teaspoon and also a pinch or two of Madras curry powder) and stir. Continue to cook until liquid is almost gone (about 10 more minutes), adjust spices to taste, then remove from heat and take out bay leaf.

Serves 6.