Sophisticated soul food is served everywhere from Atlanta to Austin, but few chefs approach Southern cuisine like Todd Richards.
The James Beard-nominated chef and "Iron Chef" competitor uses the food of his family and the region he calls home as inspiration to make haute cuisine that still tastes like comfort food. In his debut cookbook, "Soul: A Chef's Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes" (Southern Living, $35), which came out earlier this year, Richards shares recipes for dishes that feel familiar but in ways you've never seen. Tea-brined smoked duck breast served with brandied cherries and pound cake. Merguez sausages with preserved lemon and pickled turnips. Croutons made out of grits. Okra, andouille and crab fritters. Waffles made with sweet potatoes. Curried broccoli salad with peanuts.
"Soul" is a gorgeous book that will forever change how you think about the staples of Southern cuisine and the narrative of soul food as simple home cooking, and this recipe for collard green ramen shows why. If you're eating collard greens on New Year's Day, make extra so you can turn the leftovers into a savory bowl of ramen noodles, and pickle the collard green stems to add a much-needed dose of acidity and bite to your meals all winter long.
Collard Greens With Smoked Ham Hocks and Pickled Collard Green Stems
Is there a more harmonious marriage of deliciousness than ham hock broth and collard greens? Despite a dubious reputation as everyman’s fare, collards are quite versatile and can be used in sophisticated and complex dishes. Cook the greens low and slow to keep them tender but not mushy. Leftovers keep well. Just reheat them with a touch of water or reserved cooking liquid. Save leftover greens and potlikker to make the collard green ramen. Keep in mind that one bunch of large collard greens is 8 to 10 large leaves, or 1 1/2 to 2 pounds. One bunch of baby collard greens is 12 to 16 leaves, about 1 1/4 pounds. Don’t use a bunch that’s larger than 2 pounds or the leaves will be tough and bitter and the stems woody.
— Todd Richards
4 smoked bacon slices
3 bunches collard greens (1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pound smoked ham hocks, at room temperature
4 cups cold water
1 cup bourbon or whiskey
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Pickled collard green stems, for serving
Freeze the bacon 25 minutes. Remove and cut the bacon crosswise into 1/8-inch pieces.
Fill a sink with cold water. Place a cutting board near the sink. Stack 4 collard green leaves on top of each other. Remove the stems with a sharp knife and reserve for pickled collard green stems recipe. Cut the leaves into 2-inch squares. Repeat with remaining collard green leaves and rinse in cold water. Drain.
Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart stockpot over medium. Add the bacon. Cook until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain, reserving the drippings in pot. Reserve the bacon pieces for garnish.
Return the pot to medium heat. Cook the onions and garlic in the hot bacon drippings for 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the ham hocks and cook 5 minutes, turning every 45 seconds or so. Pour 4 cups cold water over the ham hocks and add the bourbon and vinegar. Bring to a simmer over medium and cook 25 minutes.
Stir in 1/4 of the collards. Continue adding the collards, 1/4 at a time, stirring after each addition. After all collards have been added, simmer 2 minutes.
Sprinkle the collards with the salt and black pepper and cook until the greens are tender, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the red pepper flakes. Let stand 30 minutes before serving.
Meanwhile, remove the ham hocks; cool slightly. Pull the meat from the bone. Chop the meat and add it to the collards. Discard the bones. Return the meat to the pot with the greens and stir. Discard the bones.
To serve, sprinkle the collard greens with the reserved bacon. Garnish with the pickled collard green stems. Serves 6.
Collard Green Ramen
When I was a kid, there was a small Chinese restaurant near our house that served yakamein. The noodles were always cooked perfectly, the egg cooked to medium, and the freshest scallions topped the bowl. The broth was clear and invigorating. One of my fondest childhood memories was being given permission to slurp my food. That sound of broth and noodles being pulled into the mouth, coupled with silence in the room — no one talks when there are bowls of yakamein — is imprinted in my mind. This recipe pays homage to that dish, but with accents of Southern culture. It’s not a replication but my interpretation and “thank you” to that restaurant for inspiring me to be a chef. You'll need about half a batch of leftover collard greens with ham hocks to make this dish, and you can always add store-bought broth if you're short on potlikker for the ramen.
— Todd Richards
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
11 quarts water
4 teaspoons kosher salt
4 large eggs
12 ounces ramen noodles
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
4 pickled collard green stems, chopped
Crispy strips of bacon, for garnish (optional)
8 scallions, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons black sesame seeds
Red pepper flakes (optional)
2 limes, each cut into 8 wedges or slices
1 to 2 (2-ounce) packages nori chips (seaweed snacks)
Bring the vinegar, 12 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil in a stockpot over high. Slip the eggs into the water. Cover; boil exactly 5 minutes. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon. Let stand 5 minutes; peel and set aside. Discard the water from the pot.
Add the remaining 8 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt to the stockpot and bring to a boil over high. Add the ramen noodles and stir to ensure the noodles do not stick together. Boil about 4 minutes or until tender. Drain.
Place 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce in each of 4 ramen bowls. Divide ramen noodles evenly among bowls. Ladle 1 to 1 1/2 cups potlikker from collard greens with smoked ham hocks into each bowl, as well as a little of the ham and the collard greens in each bowl.
Cut the eggs in half. Place 2 halves on each bowl. Top with pickled collard green stems and crispy bacon, if using. Garnish bowls with sliced scallions. Sprinkle each with about 1 teaspoon sesame seeds and red pepper flakes, if desired. Serve with the lime wedges and nori chips. Serves 4.
Pickled Collard Green Stems
Throwing food away is the most bitter pill for me to swallow. Collard stems have, for the most part, been discarded as trash, so this recipe allows you to use the collard stems instead of discarding them. It’s important for me to show my chefs that they can turn food that is usually discarded into a delicious part of any meal.
— Todd Richards
2 pounds collard green stems
8 cups water
48 cups distilled water
1/4 cup pickling salt
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
8 bay leaves
1 poblano chile, cut into 2-inch squares
1 serrano chile, cut into 8 rings
1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns
6 garlic cloves, crushed
Fill a 2-gallon stockpot half-full with distilled water. Place 8 (1-quart) jars and their lids in the water bath. Bring to a boil and boil 5 minutes to sterilize the jars and lids. Remove the jars and lids using tongs or a jar lifter. Reduce heat to low and maintain a simmer.
Fill a sink with cold water. Place a cutting board near the sink. Cut the collard green stems into 2-inch pieces and rinse in cold water. Drain.
Bring the 8 cups water to a boil in a separate stockpot over medium-high. Blanch the stems, 2 cups at a time, in the boiling water, about 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a medium bowl with ice and water. Transfer the blanched stems to the ice bath.
Fill a 2-gallon stockpot with remaining distilled water and bring to boil over medium heat. Add the pickling salt, vinegars, peppercorns and bay leaves, and cook until the salt is dissolved.
Transfer the collard green stems to the hot sterilized jars; top evenly with the chiles, pink peppercorns and crushed garlic.
Pour the pickling salt mixture through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a liquid measuring cup, reserving the peppercorns. Discard the remaining solids. Divide the black peppercorns evenly among the jars. Pour enough of the pickling liquid evenly into the jars to cover the collard green stems, filling to 1/2 inch from the top of each jar.
Wipe jar rims; cover at once with metal lids and screw on bands (snug but not too tight). Place jars in simmering water in the stockpot. Add additional boiling water as needed to cover by 1 to 2 inches. Simmer about 20 minutes or until jar lids are set. (Follow the jar manufacturer’s instructions for a good seal.)
Remove from heat. Cool jars in the water bath for 15 minutes. Transfer the jars to a cutting board; let stand at least 3 days before using. Store in a cool, dry place at room temperature. Refrigerate after opening. Makes 8 (1-quart) jars.
— From "Soul: A Chef's Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes" by Todd Richards (Southern Living, $35)