I love hanging out with my mom. She’s a little crazy and really, really funny. She is also an amazing cook and I have learned a lot about cooking from her. A few days ago I was at her house “shopping” for dinner. She always has the coolest ingredients and since she only lives two minutes away she’s a little more convenient than the grocery store. I was rummaging through her freezer when I discovered a smoked duck. I have never thought about cooking with a smoked duck and now here I was with this lovely caramel colored bird in my hands. I asked my mom two questions: “Can I have this?” and “What do I do with it?” She answered, “Put it in your greens.” Then she looked around and whispered, “That’s my secret ingredient.” I was a little confused because she was whispering and we were the only people in her house. “Okay?…” was all I said.
My mom is the Queen of the Collard Green. She has magical powers when it comes to her greens. Her greens are so tender that they’re almost silky. They’re smoky and a little spicy and no family get-together would be complete without MaeBell’s greens.
When I was a kid my mom would buy her collard greens from the Collard Greens Man. He was a farmer who would drive from his farm to Camden to sell collards off the back of his pick-up. It was pretty cool. Everyone in my neighborhood would come out and run to his truck to buy the Collard Greens Man’s fresh produce. It was like a scene from the Color Purple, except it was in New Jersey and there was no Miss Ceilie. My mom would buy a trash bag full of greens and wash them in the washing machine. I know it sounds crazy but it worked. Her greens were so good that I grew up to become a greens snob. Only my mom’s greens will do. If she’s not making any I make my own. And now that I had “the secret ingredient” my greens will be almost as good as my mom’s.
The key to good collard greens is that you have to cook them until they’re done. Contrary to what some culinary experts suggest, sauteed collard greens do not taste good. If you want a crisp tender vegetable, make green beans. But if you want delicious “just like mom used to make” greens you have to cook them (I repeat) until they’re done. Throw in a little smoked duck and you have “some good eat-n’” as they say. If you can’t find smoked duck just use smoked turkey. My mom bought the duck online from Nueske’s.
Smoked Duck Collard Greens, adapted from my mom
Makes 6 servings
1 applewood-smoked duck
2 tablespoons bacon fat (or vegetable oil)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
10 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 large bunches collard greens
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Hot sauce, for serving
Remove the skin and excess fat from the duck. Cut it into quarters and set aside.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional 1 minute. Add the duck, 8 cups water, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 1 hour. Remove the duck from the pot and set aside to cool. When the duck is cool enough to handle remove the meat. Chop the meat and set aside.
Meanwhile, prepare the collard greens. Wash the greens thoroughly and remove the stems and spines. Stack several leaves, roll them and cut into ½-inch thick slices.
Place the greens in the pot and add 2 cups water, chicken stock, seasoned salt, red pepper flakes and vinegar.
Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the duck and continue cooking until the greens are tender, about 15 additional minutes. Remove the bay leaf and season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve with hot sauce.