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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pot Of Gold

You can't rush pot likker. It takes time to coax the porky, peppery, and vinegary flavor from a mess of greens simmered long and slow in a highly seasoned ham hock stock. It's worth the time when you finish with a huge pot of southern comfort. Sure, the  greens turn out great, but the likker is liquid gold.

We still have a couple of weeks before the perky spring vegetables  hit the stands at the farmers' market. Right now, we're in the 'between' time. The market cusp. I impatiently await the arrival of the pretty stuff. In the between time, I made do with a preseason spin on sleepy southern greens.

Ham Hock Stock.
The Base.
I probably made too much stock, but I wanted enough pot likker to soothe my soul. I sauteed two cups of diced onions in bacon fat.  When the onions caramelized in the salty fat, I added 2 minced garlic cloves, cracked black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, sugar, and seasoned salt. Just before the garlic browned, I deglazed the pot with 3 cups chicken stock and 2 cups water. I tossed a large smoked ham hock into the bath, brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, cover the pot, and let it simmer for an hour. In a moment of high falootin' weakness, I added a tiny pinch of saffron to the stock. I couldn't help myself. Sorry, Granny.

While the stock simmered, I thoroughly washed 2 pounds of collard, mustard, and turnip greens. After chopping them into bite sized pieces,  I nudged the greens into the simmering stock and added 4 tablespoons
of apple cider vinegar.  When the greens wilted into the ham hock stock, I covered the pot and simmered the greens for a ridiculous 2 1/2 hours. Our house smelled like a roadside diner. Honest cooking. No pretense (sans the saffron).

Confession. While the greens simmered into oblivion, I repeatedly used a turkey baster to drink taste the stock. Suck. Cool. Squirt. Repeat. Elixir. Fabulous. To preserve my precious pot likker, I replaced my baster blasts with an additional 2 cups chicken stock.  After the first hour, I pulled the ham hock from the pot and shredded the tender meat before returning it to the simmering greens.

It's virtually impossible to mess up a mess of greens. They simply happen.

After a few hours on the stove top,  I  ladled the not-so-pretty murky greens and pot likker into large pasta bowls. We typically eat our greens topped with chopped hard boiled eggs and peppered vinegar. I changed it up a bit by slipping wedges of heavily buttered cornbread into the seasoned likker before scattering quick-pickled julienned carrots over the greens and nestling soft boiled eggs to the side.

Packed with contrasting textures and flavors, there was a lot going on for ordinary southern greens.
While the oozing egg yolks enriched the spiced stock, the  pickled carrots popped through the sleepy greens with crisp biting zing.  By the time the cornbread dissolved into the twangy mess, the greens were gone. Only the pot likker remained.

I tipped the enormous bowl to my mouth and drank every last drop.

Liquid gold.
Enough said.

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