Collard greens are a classic Southern side dish and a key part of every soul food spread. As a bitter green, collard greens require slow and low cooking methods to soften their texture and bitter bite. However, braising isn't the only method to rid collard greens of their bitterness and bolster their inherent vegetal flavors. A dash of baking soda is an extra line of defense against bitterness, with a few more unexpected perks for color and texture.
Baking soda has infinite uses in cooking and beyond: It's a leavening agent, an odor neutralizer, and an antacid to name a few. In the case of collard greens, baking soda's utility is threefold, serving as a flavor enhancer, a tenderizer, and a color protector. Baking soda is an alkali salt possessing the tenderizing and flavor-enhancing properties of regular salt. As an alkaline ingredient, it will make boiling water alkaline, effectively protecting the chlorophyll in green vegetables from breaking down. Tasting Table staff deem baking soda the secret weapon to keep boiled greens like broccoli, green beans, and peas from turning brown.
All you need to do is add a teaspoon of baking soda to your boiling water or stock to ensure that your collard greens are flavorful, tender, and vibrant. The cooking liquid must reach a boiling point to maximize baking soda's alkalinity so that it can work its magic on the collards. You can then lower the heat and slow cook as per the recipe.
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More Tips For Flavorful Collard Greens
Baking soda is a lesser-known but effective flavor enhancer for collard greens that you can utilize in addition to various other longstanding tips. A low and slow cooking method (either in a slow cooker or on the stove) is even more vital to collard greens' texture and flavor. Another more common ingredient to neutralize bitterness is vinegar, which tends to be a consistent ingredient in most Southern collard greens recipes. Spicy and other robust flavors are also important in masking and complementing the bitter flavors in collard greens.
Consequently, ham hocks, turkey legs, and bacon are typical additions to the stock pot, creating an umami-rich cooking liquid for the greens to soak up with the added decadence of succulent chunks of meat. Sriracha, hot sauce, red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper each provide a spicy kick that will stand up to collard greens' bitterness while also rounding out their complex savory flavor profile. While you can employ all of these tips while you slowly cook your collard greens, you can also serve your collard greens with a bottle of hot sauce and apple cider vinegar so your guests can make their helping of collard greens as tangy or spicy as they like.
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