Garlicky Kale with Crispy Salt Pork

Inexplicably, all week long I’d been jonesing for some comfort food–some serious, Southern comfort food.  Maybe it was because this past week, I’d increased my cardio workouts to 20 minutes every other day, or maybe it was because I just wanted some down-home, stick to your ribs food.  Whatever the reason, I decided when doing the shopping for the week that we’d have unfried chicken, mashed potatoes and some greens.  I didn’t want green beans (we eat a lot of those), and I didn’t want a salad (we eat a lot of that too).  Sticking to my resolve to try at least one new recipe a week, and at least one new vegetable a week, I decided we’d have kale.

Kale is a member of the mustard family of plants–the Brassicas.  This is the same group that includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard/collard greens and Brussels sprouts.  I’m a big fan of the lot, and I’d had kale before, but had never actually prepared it myself and wanted to try my hand at it.

Last winter, my friend Julie and I had gone to a cooking class all about bacon over at Central Market, and one of the recipes we learned was kale with crispy salt pork.  I figured it would be a good accompaniment to my Unfried Chicken recipe, and decided that would be our green vegetable for dinner tonight.

A different take on traditional greens served with a lot of Southern cuisine, the saltiness of the salt pork here means you don't add any during the cooking.

They were not the soggy looking greens I’d been accustomed to seeing on steam tables.  These were toothsome, flavorful and a bit salty (owing to the salt pork in the recipe).  The salt pork here is cooked until it renders most of its fat, leaving it crispy.  The kale is then quickly cooked in a bit of the remaining fat until bright green, but not soggy or limp.  A bit of garlic is added, and then the crisp salt pork is then added back to the leaves and served while warm.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 large bunch of kale
  • 8 ounces salt pork, cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Optional:  red pepper flakes, Tobasco

Trim the thick layer of fat from the salt pork.  Trust me when I say there will be plenty of fat rendered from the meat to cook the greens in.  If you are all about the fat, then by all means, don’t trim the salt pork.  I trimmed the fat in an effort to reduce the fat content (and to not have to drain it off!).  Dice the salt pork into 1/2″ pieces and cook in a hot skillet until crispy.  Keep an eye on the skillet, as it will begin to smoke as the meat becomes crispier and crispier.

While the salt pork is cooking, remove the leaves from your kale.  It is best to do this by hand by tearing the leaves into bite-sized pieces away from the stem.  Put the pieces into a bowl or colander so that you can wash them off thoroughly, removing any traces of dirt.  For me, this yielded about 6 cups of raw kale.  Your amount may vary, depending on how large your bunch of kale is.

Once the salt pork is crispy and has rendered nearly all of its fat, remove the pieces from the pan to a bowl.  Pour off all but about two tablespoons of the drippings.  You really do not need much fat for this next step, but you want enough fat to flavor the greens without drowning them entirely in it.

While the pan is still hot, add the kale.  It should sizzle when added to the pan.  Stir it around rapidly to coat the leaves with the fat remaining in the pan and cook until bright green.  This took me about 4 minutes, because my leaves were not terribly large to begin with.  Near the end of the cooking, add the garlic and stir.  If you like your greens with pepper flakes, this would be the time to add them.  Return the crispy salt pork to the pan, stir one last time and remove from heat.  Serve while hot.

This recipe makes 4 servings.

I think if I make this again, I am going to rinse the salt pork a bit to remove some of the saltiness.  I do not usually eat a lot of salt to start with, so this dish was a bit salty for my tastes.

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