Kickass Whiskey-Braised Collards

After a mere 30 years living in the South, I finally learned how to make collard greens, one of the staple foods of the region. It happened quite serendipitously, as I described in my original recipe for “Just Collards.” Since that fateful day, and the quick walk-through given to me by a kind stranger, I have made collards many times, using the same basic recipe. My husband and I enjoy them with everything from fried chicken that I pick up at the deli counter, pulled pork that he makes on the smoker, and even occasionally just on the side with some homemade mac and cheese.

Collard greens, in case you don’t already know, are one of nature’s “superfoods,” and they can be eaten raw, but most often you’ll find them braised in liquid. Collards are so packed with nutrients (including vitamin C, calcium, immune-supportive B vitamins and magnesium), that even the resulting cooking juices are considered to be sustaining. They are a very hardy crop, easy to grow in nearly every climate, and they are widely revered here in the South.

Until now, I have followed the same basic recipe—cook up some chopped bacon with onions, add chopped collards to the grease, splash in vinegar and broth and let them simmer until tender. Easy enough, and always delicious. I can’t quite explain what happened last week that inspired me to put a hot and spicy, bold and boozy twist on them—maybe a burst of Black History Month energy—but, mercy, was it ever good!

The salty bacon, smoky pepper heat and the bite of whiskey have transformed my usual collards into something extra flavorful!

I amped up these collards with fresh garlic and a few extra shakes of a specialty pepper mix we love, which includes smoky chipotle, fruity ancho and fiery habanero. The combination of hot pepper flavors sent these collards over the top into kick-ass territory. The real kicker, though, was the shot of whiskey I splashed into them. And not just any whiskey, but the only brand I happened to have on hand when my imagination started running—Uncle Nearest 1856. If you have not yet heard of this whiskey, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read about it. Uncle Nearest is a Black-owned brand, built on the legacy of Nathan “Nearest” Green, an enslaved man who taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey. If you’re thinking, “how can that be?” well, this is why we have Black History Month, so we can fill in the gaps of what we thought we knew.

Braising in the whiskey turned out to be a great decision.

Uncle Nearest 1856 was the basis for the Long Time Coming red cocktail I created in honor of Juneteenth last year, and at 100 proof, it’s pretty sturdy. The charred oak barrel notes of the spirit imparted additional smokiness to these collards, which cooked up in about half the time as my regular, go-to recipe. That might have been the whiskey, or it could just be that I served them up earlier than usual, because they smelled so darn good.


Ingredients

3 slices uncured bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces

1/2 large yellow or sweet onion, chopped

3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped or minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Several shakes Dark and Smoky red pepper blend (or any crushed red pepper you like)

1 large bunch fresh collard leaves, washed and trimmed of heavy stems

1 shot glass whiskey (about 3 tablespoons)

1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth


Instructions


In a large skillet or pot, cook the bacon and onion over medium heat until the bacon has crispy edges and the onion is softened. Add the garlic, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and cook another minute or two.

Clear a space in the center of the pan and add about a teaspoon of olive oil. Shake the red pepper flakes into the oil to activate the flavors, and then toss the bacon-onion mixture to spread it around. Add the collards, a handful at a time until wilted, and toss to cook. When the collards have softened and collapsed into the pan, add the whiskey and vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until collards are tender. This will take anywhere from 25-50 minutes, depending on your simmer level and preference. Adjust salt and pepper to taste before serving.


16 thoughts on “Kickass Whiskey-Braised Collards

  1. Pingback: Smoky Jalapeño Baked Beans | Comfort du Jour

  2. Pingback: Kickass Whiskey-Braised Collards — Comfort du Jour | My Meals are on Wheels

  3. Whisky! What a wonderful addition!
    I learned to hate collards when I lived down south. Of course, the reason was the collards I was served at the time, years ago, were slimy grey things floating in greasy pig parts for about 20 hours. However, since then, I have learned to appreciate this lovely green and cook them (barely) and simply (no pig parts, but everyone else in the family would certainly appreciate your bacon!). Our local farm grows them every year along with every other type of green, and I really love their flavor.
    Yours look perfectly cooked Terrie, they are green and not grey which with collards is a great place to start!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Dorothy! You’re right, the first few times I tried collards, I thought they were a soggy, salty mess. Some around here have a tradition of cooking greens to death…in a big pot with a slab of “fatback.” They do the same with green beans!

      When Les had a milestone birthday in 2019, we had all his family here, including a few who keep Kosher. I made my collards with olive oil that weekend and they were a hit all around! They have become a favorite for me and you can’t beat them in the nutrition department. 😋

      Liked by 1 person

    • They are very much a staple in the South, but I never even heard of them when I lived in upstate New York! This should ease your mind a bit…they don’t taste like kale, even though they’re related. 😉

      Like

  4. I’ve read so much about collard greens but the one time I tried them, they were bitter and uninspiring. Given its popularity, it must be better than my experience. This recipe sounds good, so maybe this is where I start. How long does it need to simmer to get tender? is it 2 minutes or 20?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I really didn’t specify at all, did I? Sorry about that, Sandy! From the time you add the broth and begin to simmer, it will take anywhere from 25 to 50 minutes to reach “tender” stage. Thanks for calling out the missing info; I have updated the recipe to include approximate times!

      Collards should not be bitter, or at least not the way mustard greens are. They are hearty and substantial, and the longer you cook them, the more the flavor seems to mellow. I hope you’ll try them again, either with this whiskey-braised recipe or the one linked below, which I posted in 2020. Good luck!

      https://comfortdujour.com/2020/07/21/just-collards/

      Like

  5. Linda

    Not only is adding whiskey to the collards a great idea, but I have got to find that Uncle Nearest brand. I love the story behind it, and the description of the whiskey itself. Thanks, Terrie!

    Liked by 1 person

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