Cutting the fat (if you can believe it) in collards with bacon and cream

Collards4 - Version 2

We know that spring must be near, because tender collard greens are starting to appear at our local markets. Southerner that she is, Michelle immediately began to think of collards and pork. The kind of slow-cooked, somewhat greasy goodness one finds at many “soul food” or “Southern style” restaurants, along with a cruet of vinegar to dilute the fat and give the greens a chance to surface.


But while we are a household which indeed reveres fat, even we blanched at the amount called for in Ian Knauer’s The Farm: Rustic Recipes For a Year of Incredible Food. Perhaps showing the “Pennsyltucky” part of his Allentown, PA roots, Knauer’s version called for both bacon and a ham hock, plus an entire cup of cream.


Michelle left out the hock, cut the bacon and substantially reduced the cream. Our version still seemed plenty creamy and bacon-y, perhaps because our tender, sweet young collards (thanks local farmers!) didn’t need to be buried in a pile of pig meat.  And perhaps because we’re less “Southern” than we used to be.


(adapted from Ian Knauer’s The Farm: Rustic Recipes For a Year of Incredible Food)

  • About 2 lbs. of collard greens
  • 2 slices smoked bacon, cut into lardons
  • 1 large onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 c. chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 TB brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. cider vinegar
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream

Remove large center stems from collards and discard. Coarsely chop leaves into approximately 1-1/2 to 2 inch squares.

Cook bacon in a Dutch oven until browned and crisped, stirring occasionally. Remove to a paper towel, reserving the fat in the pot.

Add onions to bacon fat along with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are beginning to caramelize. Add garlic and continue cooking, stirring more frequently, until garlic begins to color.

Add stock, brown sugar and vinegar. Then add collards, stirring until greens are slightly wilted and liquid is distributed throughout. Cover pan and cook over low heat for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove cover, stir in cream and increase heat. Boil for about about 10 minutes, until most of liquid is evaporated.

Crumble bacon over greens before serving.


  1. I keep reading articles that tell me fat has been much maligned and isn’t the bad thing it’s been made out to be. A lot of people seem to be pointing the finger at carbohydrates and sugar. I don’t know if it’s true but I do like the idea.
    Those collars and bacon look very good 😉

    • Thanks, MD! I bet you had some collards in your Southern days. I hope I live long enough for people to just say, like Julia Child did, “everything in moderation.” I am so weary of all the “don’t eat [fill in the blank]” hysteria that I could just scream! Obviously it’s a good idea to eat more good things and less bad ones, but food isn’t medicine.

  2. Oh good Lord. This looks amazing. Greens are meant to be elevated like this. Good job in cutting the fat and cream. This is a great once in a while absolute delicious side dish. Well done. It feels like deep south to me.

  3. Eha

    If I may, and in the friendliest of ways: – Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine did say:
    ‘Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food’ . . .
    Without wanting to spoil anyone’s fun may I suggest food is the main medicine both preventative and curative which mankind possesses. Most pills causing so many ills themselves could be flushed down the toilet if people [I mean in the Western World with access to food] ate correctly. Yes, we should eat a ‘balanced’ diet but even some doctors do not know how to define that sensibly and many sin most dreadfully themselves 🙂 ! About 25-30% of fat is usually recognized as advisable: good fats that is – definitely not saturated or transfats used in commercial cooking. Look at the current obesity levels, look at the increase in cancer and diabetes of the past decades – all food and lack of exercise caused. [What right do I have to speak up: perhaps none, but I have done six years of Medical School and now studied 25 years of nutrition at university level and am still studying at three unis at the moment – only saying as I truly am not some kind of a ‘ratbag’]. Can one be a foodie and still follow some simple rules: you bet!! My apologies for speaking up!

    • You may anytime! I really was just talking about how people—especially Americans—seem to jump on these bandwagons and decide “If I eat this one thing” or “If I never eat this one thing” … everything will be okay. Which is silly. (Unless of course you have a real medical condition that dictates not eating certain things.)

      • Eha

        Michelle ~ I almost did not sleep after posting this last night! And I DO promise not to be a ruddy ‘spoilsport’ on your blog again!! It is just that it is very difficult to be a teacher and not speak up!! Thank you for being so gracious!!!

  4. You cut the cream and it still looks so decadently rich, I can’t imagine what the original recipe would have looked like! And yay for fresh new crops — spring is officially on its way. I know I’m ready for it!

  5. I was just about to write: Can there ever be too much butter? after all, it´s the fat that best transports all the flavors. But after reading the comments, I was about to answer in a bit of a different way. But then again, no. It´s all about delight here, at least for me. So I´d like to put it that way: Can there ever be too much butter?

  6. I vote for your “moderation in all things” approach! But, really, I’m still hung up on seeing Pennsyltucky in print–my husband and I have used that forever but I didn’t know anyone else who did!

  7. Michelle and Steve… I love these photos. The water droplets and kale photo up close is beautiful. This dish looks fresh, Southern and rich. The puddling cream on the plate is elegant. You made some healthy changes, yet kept all of the flavor. I am looking forward to trying this with some beef bacon and local kale soon, which is now on sale at the local Co-Op. This is a great, seasonal post. Warm wishes… Shanna

    • Understandable, Shanna. I actually made this with lacinato kale once. And it really wasn’t as good. The kale threw in a bitter note that didn’t quite work with the sweet and sour. But, oh, I love kale.

      • Is that the dinosaur kale? I added some sautéed baby kale to a macaroni and cheese last night and it was sweet, unlike the larger, bitter varieties. Isn’t that fascinating? Anyway, for a good Southern girl, there is no excuse for anything but collards. 🙂

  8. For all my years living in the south, I never had collard greens with cream. I’m definitely doing without and can’t wait to try your version…it looks wonderful.

    • Karen, this was the first greens recipe I’ve ever seen with cream, too. I guess it was kind of a riff on creamed spinach or something. It did work. Hats off to Mr. Knauer on that.

  9. These are a delicious example of greens being far from boring. Albeit here’s bacon, ham hocks and cream, but surely it’s about the yummy things which a company everyday meals in life too. I agree those water droplets are perfection and I love fresh greens, whether bitter or savoury, textural & more. I’ve never tried collard greens but if I do, this would be mighty tasty!

  10. The current trend (read fad) of people refusing to eat this or that is an affront to the millions of people who go to bed hungry every night. I wonder how many of the have “issues with gluten”?
    I love me some greens, Michelle, but have never had them prepared with cream. Pig hocks and bacon, yes. Cream, no. Your dish sounds really good, though, and I’ll be sure to give cream a try. It really is too good to pass up.

    • Ain’t it the truth, John? I know you and I are both old enough to remember the SnackWells era. 🙂 (Though I’m happy to say that I don’t think one ever passed my mouth.)

  11. I am not sure if we have collard greens here in New Zealand so what do you suggest as a replacement for it? Will kailan work? they look the same, thick and wide leaves. Looks so delicious this one!

    • That’s interesting, Raymund. I know they have collards all over Eastern Europe and Africa. I figured they’d have them your way, too. The leaves are probably a bit more leathery than gailan, but they’re from the same family of plants, so I don’t know why not.

  12. This was so interesting. I tasted my first collards as an adult, and have been playing with them ever since, usually to see if there’s a way to shorten the cooking time. I’m concluding there isn’t. I haven’t encountered them with cream before–it sounds a little counterintuitive to me, like kale with cream–but sometimes those can be the best way to go. I like your reduced cream version–it does sound incredibly good. It’s on the list. Ken

    • I had never seen greens of any sort (except, of course, spinach) with cream before. It is a nice counterpoint to the sweet and sour. It’s funny, though they’re such a Southern thing, I don’t remember collards all that much when I was a kid. Although my grandmother and mother would mix up all sorts of greens (turnip, kale, mustard, etc.) so I probably just wasn’t very interested and didn’t notice.

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