Learn how to cook turnip greens just like they do in the South. Greens are slowly simmered with pork jowl, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper for a tender, tasty soul food side dish.
This post is sponsored by Clifty Farm. The opinions contained within are my own.
I recall a conversation I had with my husband our first New Year’s after we were married. I was relaying to him what I planned to cook on New Year’s Day. I don’t remember what I told him, only that my menu was all wrong, because he interrupted me and said, “No, on New Year’s Day you eat hog jowls and turnip greens or it’s bad luck.”
I’m pretty sure I looked at my new husband like he had just lost his mind. Please remember, even though I was born in the South, I was raised by two Mid-Westerners. We had New Year’s Day traditions, but they definitely did not involve hog jowls or turnip greens. At that time, I didn’t even know what hog jowls were, much less where to buy them or how to prepare them. That first year, we came to a compromise — cabbage and ham.
What are pork jowls?
I’ve come a looong way since then. I eventually taught myself how to cook turnip greens. In fact, I make them quite often. Traditionally, greens are slowly simmered for several hours with some type of smoked and salted meat for seasoning.
Until recently, I used smoked ham hocks or a leftover ham bone for my greens. Then Clifty Farm, my favorite producer of smoked pork products, offered to let me try their line of pork jowls, which are rolling out in grocery stores across the country. Immediately, my mind went back to that conversation I had with my husband so many years ago.
Hog jowls are a cut of meat from the pig’s cheek. It tastes very similar to thick cut bacon. In fact, in other parts of the United States you may hear it referred to as jowl bacon. Clifty Farm pork jowls are dry-cured and smoked over natural hickory wood before being sliced and packaged. Fried on its own, the pork jowls crisp up nicely around the edges, but maintain a delicious chewy texture. When simmered with a pot of greens, the leaves naturally absorb the smoky, salty flavor.
What is the difference between turnip greens, collard greens and mustard greens?
Turnips are a root vegetable closely related to kale, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Turnips grow under the ground. The “greens” refer to the green leaves that grow above the ground. Coincidentally, the leaves are also where all the nutrients are. Turnip greens are loaded with various vitamins and nutrients that prevent osteoporosis, maintain healthy skin and hair, reduce iron deficiency and help with digestion.
Collard greens are a variety of cabbage. Mustard greens, considered to be an herb, are the leaves of the mustard plant (that yellow mustard you squirt on your hot dog comes from the seed of the mustard plant).
Each has a different texture and taste when cooked. Turnip and collard greens in their raw form are very tough in texture. It is not something you want to toss into your salad. Both are simmered for long period of time to soften them up, which makes them idea for this recipe.
Mustard greens are more tender. You can eat them in their raw form or cook them down similar to spinach or kale. Because of their more delicate texture, mustard greens tend to cook down to mush if cooked in this manner.
How to Cook Turnip Greens
Preparing a pot of old-fashioned Southern Turnip Greens only requires a few ingredients – One 16-ounce package of Clifty Farm pork jowls for seasoning, ¼-cup of apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and four large bunches of fresh turnip greens. Keep in mind, greens are just like spinach. You buy what looks like a truckload, but then after you cook them down you’re left with something that could fit into the palm of your hand. Three to four bunches may look like A LOT, but in the end it won’t be.
Wash the leaves and remove the stems
Because turnips are a root vegetable that grows in the ground, it’s a good idea to wash the leaves first to remove any grit and grime. I fill my kitchen sink with cool, clean water, then completely immerse the leaves in the water. I let them soak for about 15-20 minutes to let any grime sink to the bottom, then carefully remove the leaves and drain the water.
The center stem of a turnip green leaf is very tough. You want to remove this before cooking. You can do it with a sharp knife, but I find it easier just to tear the leaves from the stem by hand. If you are a gardener, toss the stems in with your compost. Afterwards, roughly chop the leaves into manageable pieces.
Preparing the pork jowls
Clifty Farm pork jowls already come presliced, but I do chop them up into smaller bite-sized pieces before tossing them into a large stock pot that has been heating over medium heat. Cook the chopped hog jowls for 3-5 minutes to render out some of the grease. But don’t drain the grease. Simply pour one quart of water over the jowls, bring to a boil, cover the pot, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the vinegar
Next, add the apple cider vinegar. This ingredient helps to further break down the fibrous leaves. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar on hand, regular distilled white vinegar will also work. I’ve even had a reader recommend using salsa!
One common complaint I hear about greens is that they are bitter. In addition to the vinegar, add one teaspoon of sugar, one teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper. This will help remove any bitter flavor. Bring the water to a boil again.
Bring to a simmer
Finally, add the washed and chopped greens to the pot. You may need to add them in batches, stirring between each addition until they wilt a little to make room for the next batch. Once the greens have all been added, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, then wait.
For more tender greens, let them simmer for 1-1 ½ hours. For more tender greens, cook them two hours or longer. I like somewhere in the middle, about 1 ½ hours.
Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving. I like to eat my turnip greens with a slice of hot homemade cornbread for sopping up any juices. The Husband likes to add a few sprinkles of hot sauce for heat.
Speaking of juices, don’t dump those out! The broth, known as potlikker or pot liquor, is the best part. I use them as the base for this hearty, healthy potlikker soup.
How to store turnip greens
Allow the turnip greens to cool completely before transferring them to an airtight container with a lid. Turnip greens should be eaten within four days.
Freezing cooked turnip greens
Believe it or not, cooked turnip greens can be frozen. My preferred method is to spoon the greens and the potlikker into a freezer bag. Leave several inches at the top for expansion. Carefully fold the top of the bag down to squeeze out all the air, then seal. Lay the bag flat to freeze. Once frozen, you can stack it. Frozen greens should be eaten within 3-4 month. Allow then to thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.
Where to Buy Clifty Farm Products
I can honestly say, these were my best pot of turnip greens to date! The Clifty Farm pork jowls added so much more flavor compared to my old method. Clifty Farm is in the process of rolling this product out to more and more stores over the next few months. I am very excited, as this will be my go-to way to season a pot of turnip greens from now on. In the meantime, you can purchase Clifty Farm pork jowl and their famous country ham online.
More Greens Recipes:
More Clifty Farm Recipes:
Southern Turnip Greens
- 4 large bunches of turnip or collard greens washed
- 1 (16 ounce package) Clifty Farm pork jowls, chopped
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- Remove the center stems from the greens. Discard the stems and coarsely chop the leaves.
- Heat the pork jowls in a large stock pot over medium heat. Cook for 3-5 minutes to render off some of the grease, but so not drain the grease.
- Add one quart (4 cups) of water to the pot. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the cider vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to the pot. Bring the pot to a boil again.
- Add the greens. You may need to work in batches, allowing the greens to wilt down to make room for more.
- Cover the pot again, then cook for 1 -2 hours. The longer the greens cook, the more tender they will become.
- Season the greens with salt and pepper if needed.