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Anyone made Southern greens with bacon instead of a ham hock?

Some of you might be able to figure out from my posting history that I am attempting to make Southern greens and cornbread in Ireland, which is not so easy! I usually make my greens by boiling a ham hock and some diced onion for a while, then adding the greens with the vinegar, salt and pepper, and crushed red pepper. But, according to my local butcher, there will be no smoked hams until Christmas, and thus no smoked ham hocks. I picked up some good-looking smoked streaky bacon instead (I prefer the flavor to back bacon, which is more common in Ireland.) Does anyone make greens with bacon? I know fatback is often used but I've never tried that. Do you fry the bacon first and then add the water etc. and let it cook to make the broth to add the greens to? (This is kind of my plan.) Is the result as yummy as when using a ham hock? Any info is appreciated!

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  1. I grew up in the great Southern state of Mississippi and assure you that almost any vegetable can be seasoned with bacon. Is the result as yummy as when using a ham hock? Well, probably so. Generally one begins the dish with only the bacon in the pot and gently cooks to render the fat, as in this recipe from Emeril after he had lived in Louisiana for several years.

    1. Fry off your chopped streaky bacon, add your onions, garlic and then your greens. Season and add chicken stock to cook to desired doneness. The flavor will still be great, but your pot likker will not have the same body as if it had been simmered with collagen rich ham hocks or turkey wings.

      1. Absolutely yes. Here's my family method straight from Louisiana. In a large pot heat some oil and roughly chopped bacon over medium heat until bacon is well browned. Maybe add in a litte sliced garlic and cook 45 seconds or so. Deglaze with chicken stock and vinegar and maybe add a little sugar to cut the acidity along with the greens. Partially cover and cook for 30 minutes or so.

        1. Bacon and braising is the way this New Englander makes "Southern" greens. The first time I had boiled greens was on a trip to Tennessee. They were great, but a Kentucky-born friend assured me that good greens could be made without the long-boiling Southern method. Rener some chopped bacon, add garlic and onions and saute till golden, then add chicken broth or ham broth and the chopped greens. Cover and simmer, adding your choice of vinegar and cayenne-delivery-system (hot sauce or red pepper flakes or whatever) when the greens are nearly done.

          1. I use Justin Wilson's recipe and substitute bacon for the hocks. Dice and saute over low heat to render some of the fat. Add onions and garlic and the greens and cook until slightly wilted but still firm. Then add some cheap chardonnay and continue cooking. I like my pot likker strong, but you can always dilute with water or stock.


            1. Here's a recent thread about exactly that -- sounds delicious!


              1. I know this is probably against the law in the south, but this yankee adds a chicken boullion cube to a pot of cleaned, trimmed collard greens. Tastes pretty good.

                1. I've done it before without the ham hock and it was still delicious.

                  Check the link. This is an old recipe from the African American Heritage Cookbook at the Tuskegee Institute for collard greens and cornmeal dumplings (I love and own this series of books). Scroll down past the poems and you'll find the recipe.


                  I hope it's useful!

                  1. Here is a variation: use a smoked turkey leg.
                    I am in exile from the South, and live in Philadelphia. Can seldom find ham hocks in a regular suburban grocery store, (and NEVER country ham!!!!!). A fellow exile gave me the tip about using the smoked turkey leg, and it adds lots of flavor to the greens, and is probably healthier than bacon or ham hocks.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: VosFan

                      Whenever we can't find any hocks or a good sized chunk of salt pork, I'll toss a smoked turkey wing into the pot...

                      1. re: VosFan

                        lol, if smoked ham is not to be had until Christmas in Ireland, then the all-American turkey is probably even less likely! I would like to try this some time though, just not possible where I am now.

                      2. I find that when using bacon to flavor things, it's best to chop it up raw, then fry it, then REMOVE it and go ahead with using only the bacon fat in your dish. After the dish is completely finished, garnish it with the crispy bacon. If you stew the bacon, it will become flaccid and flavorless.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: sandylc

                          That's a good point I keep forgetting, and it's correct - the bacon does taste much better not stewed. Another thing I'm missing in most of these narratives is any mention of turning the greens in the fat before adding any liquid. Just push them down towards the bottom on the nearest side, then push gently but firmly away from you across the bottom of the pan. Keep doing this until the greens are all coated and wilting down noticeably. Then add any liquid - just what's in and on the leaves is plenty up until then - and cover. A shake or a stir now and then doesn't hurt.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            I agree to some extent. I use this technique with dishes like clam chowder, where I'm counting on most of the flavor coming from the clam liquid and I want the flavor contrast of the bacon. When I'm making something like beans, I let the bacon stew along with everything else, because I want the flavor of the bacon to permeate the rest of the dish and not just be a garnish. I let the bacon cook along with everything else this time too, because it's all about the pot likker for me. It still had good flavor and texture at the end and wasn't limp or flavorless. (It was also very hearty, meaty bacon--it almost tasted like pieces of ham.)

                        2. I make my collards with bacon quite often. I render some bacon until almost crispy and then add garlic and red pepper flakes. When this gets fragrant I add a tablespoon of sugar to bacon and let this caramelize for a minute. I then add greens and some chicken stock and cook until the greens are tender but not mush. I like a little bite to the greens as well and like to retain some of the vitamins.

                          The sugar balances the dish and makes the bacon pieces really delicious., I usually eat a few before adding the greens.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: MVNYC

                            Ha! Yes, the ever-present challenge of making any dish that begins with rendering bacon--not eating all the bacon before you add the other ingredients!

                          2. i usually use bacon. its pretty rare that i have a ham hock or a smoked turkey leg sitting around, and usually have bacon/bacon drippings.

                            1. I am happy to report success using the bacon! This is probably partly because it was really delicious, meaty bacon and you could tell it was smoked the old-fashioned way, no "smoke flavor." In general, I am very much enjoying the much higher quality of Irish animal products, compared to conventional American ones (they're also mostly local.) I couldn't find real collard greens but there was a kind of cabbage sold at the outdoor market that I'd never seen before that seemed like a cross between collard greens and a standard green, headed cabbage. It had a tight "head" in the middle but lots of dark, loose, outer leaves that looked and tasted like collards. Used these, plus a bunch of gorgeous kale. (The remaining head went back in the fridge--it's probably headed for some kind of soup.) The chicken broth, onions, garlic, red pepper flakes and cider vinegar were plenty easy to find. I actually didn't end up missing the ham hock at all. And my European housemates, who'd obviously never had "greens" before, were quite enthusiastic.

                              So Southern greens in Ireland are totally possible, folks!

                              1. Yes to bacon!!! Anyway you slice or dice it. Anyway you pre-cook or not. (raw)...It's all good! ~~ I always use bacon/bacon fat in greens in addition to any other of the usual suspect seasoning meats


                                1. I love collard greens. I too often use a hamhock or a smoked turkey leg as others have mentioned. But on occasion, especially when I'm making a much lighter main dish, like seafood, or a very smoky dish, like the ribs I'll be smoking for dinner this Friday evening, I'll just saute them up with some olive oil and garlic, and let them cook slowly with a little chicken stock. Still delicious and complements the ribs or other main dish fine.