Growing up on a farm in the Cumberland Highlands means you have easy access to fresh vegetables year-round. What vegetables our family didn’t eat at-the-moment-of-ripeness were canned or vacuum-sealed via a magical apparatus known as the seal-a-meal.
Collard greens are one of the South’s epic brassicae. Most southern, soul food chefs put them on the stove-top early in the morning with a ham hock, and a cup of bacon fat, and let them cook for 3-4 hours before they’re finally served as a glorious “mess of greens.” This is how I grew up eating them; as a side for fried pork chops, fried chicken, country fried steak or some other critter that had found its way into a bowl of buttermilk and dredge prior to its denouement in an ancient bubbling cast-iron filled with leaf lard.
You move to the big city, get to eating cuisines from other countries, and adopt a few techniques and ingredients that would be viewed with deep suspicion in Appalachia.
Like fish sauce.
I remember discovering this magical substance as a teenager when I’d set my bead on Birmingham, Alabama where I would begin training as a chef.
There is no Little Vietnam in Birmingham. Just a handful of restaurants putting out banh mi, pho and other Southeast Asian foods that are sometimes powered by fish sauce. The first time your tongue is bewitched by its magical twang is a gustatory pleasure unlike any other.
Perhaps on par with discovering cumin, msg or soy sauce.
You’re never the same from that point onward.
2 bunches Greens, Collards, chiffonade
2 bunches Onions, Green, chopped
1 T. Red pepper flakes
3 T. Fish Sauce, Red Boat’s a good brand
1 T. Soy Sauce, Bluegrass Soy Sauce is the best of the lot
* Get big cast-iron pan blazing hot with fat (I like peanut oil)
* Add green onions, cook til nicely charred
* Add collards and red pepper flakes
* Saute for 5 minutes
* Add both sauces and quickly put lid on pan
* Steam for 1 minute
Voila! Serve as a side dish for any protein your heart may desire. You can also serve as a quasi vegetarian dish over steamed rice. I haven’t retired my old school creamy collards recipe that’s been my ace in the hole for over a decade but this formula has been getting heavy play of late.
Bon Appetit y’all