Chew On This

Weigl: A hard-learned collard lesson

aweigl@newsobserver.comDecember 31, 2013 

OYSTERROAST9.FE.031413.JEL

Sunday Collards and Red Rice from the award-winning “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook,” at the oyster roast Andrea Weigl hosted with Matt and Ted Lee earlier this year.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

When I look back at 2013, my best and worst moments of the year are wrapped up into one experience.

A high point for me as a food writer was persuading Matt and Ted Lee to show me how to do a Low Country oyster roast.

In case you don’t know, the Lee brothers launched themselves into the food world as Southern transplants in Manhattan whose longing for a taste from home propelled them to start “The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue.” It is a mail-order business for such Southern favorites as boiled peanuts, stone-ground grits and Jerusalem artichoke relish.

The brothers have gone on to write several cookbooks, including “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook,” which won a slew of prestigious cookbook awards. Among its recipes is a detailed description of how to pull together an oyster roast.

This spring, the brothers came to the Triangle on their latest book tour, and I thought it would be fun to turn a first-hand oyster roast lesson into a story.

Matt and Ted Lee came to my West Raleigh home on a sunny spring afternoon to drink beer, eat oysters and talk food. Beyond the oysters, I followed the advice in their cookbook and made batches of red rice and collards to go along with the oysters.

It was the first time I had ever made collards. My family’s heritage is German, so our tradition was pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day, not black-eyed peas and collards. While my husband often makes black-eyed peas for supper, neither of us has ever tried to make collards. That brings me to the low point of the year.

After the oyster roast was over, my husband and I planned to eat the leftovers for dinner. After one bite, my husband broke the news: My collards were undercooked. I had served underdone collards to the Lee brothers, two men in the food world I look up to, to say the least. I was horrified.

The next day, I learned how to rescue not-so-tender collards by throwing them into the slow cooker and cooking them for a few more hours. They turned out delicious. Likely today, when my husband and I cook up the traditional Southern New Year’s Day meal, I will follow the Lee brothers’ recipe for Sunday collards until all the greens are wilted and then transfer them to the slow cooker to finish the job.

I learned another lesson from the Lee brothers beyond how to roast oysters: A gracious guest doesn’t embarrass the host if her collards aren’t as tender they should be.

That shows you what proper Southern gentlemen they are.

Sunday Collards

From “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook,” by Matt Lee and Ted Lee (W.W. Norton & Co., 2006).

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, peanut oil or canola oil

1 smoked ham hock or smoked hog jowl or 1/4 pound slab bacon, diced

8 cups water

3 dried chile peppers or 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon kosher salt

3 3/4 pounds collard greens (about 72 leaves, or 3 bunches), ribbed, washed and cut into 1-inch strips

POUR oil into an 8-quart stockpot over medium-high heat and swirl it around so it covers the bottom. Score the ham hock with a small sharp knife, and set it in the pot when oil begins to shimmer. Sear ham hock all over as best you can and allow it to render some fat, about 6 minutes (since a hock’s shape is so oblique, it will become spottily browned, but that is fine).

POUR water into the pot; it will hiss and pop for a few seconds. Add chiles and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, until stock is deeply flavored with smoke and spiciness.

ADD a few handfuls of collards to the pot. The greens will float to the surface, so stir them frequently, submerging them with the spoon, until they have turned a bright kelly green (3 to 5 minutes) and become floppier and more compact, so you can add more handfuls. Continue adding handfuls of collards, stirring and submerging them, until all the greens are in the pot (6 to 10 minutes). Turn heat to low and simmer very gently for an hour. The greens will be a very dark matte green and completely tender.

Yield: 6 servings.

Weigl: 919-829-4848 or aweigl@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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