I’ve had the privilege of growing up in the South, and these are the words I live by: “We, as chefs and cooks, are dedicated to raising the conscious level of Southern cuisine.”
Thanks to my Southern roots, I’ve known for a lifetime what the world is just starting to understand and respect — the rich flavors and true comfort of Southern dishes. The more I grew in my formal culinary education and training, the more I pulled away and became somewhat ashamed of the foods that I and so many other Southerners relished as children. However, as I continued to grow as a chef and began to travel beyond the United States, I discovered that other countries and cultures did not try to hide or move beyond the heritage of their native dishes. There was no shame in preparing and serving worms, animal organs or pork belly, for example. I grew even prouder of my heritage and began to incorporate more of my mother’s recipes into my menu offerings.
I am on a mission — better yet, a quest — to share the rich heritage of Southern recipes and flavor profiles with the world. Grits, collard greens, ham hocks, smoked turkey necks, ox tails, fatback and chitterlings are no longer shielded from those who did not grow up with these delicacies on their dining room table. I incorporate Southern cuisine and flavor profiles in every dish I prepare for clients across the United States and abroad.
One of my signature recipes is Collard Greens Casserole, which I created with my mother, Mrs. Johnnie Mae Sherrod, in mind. This recipe incorporates foods that could be found on my Sunday dinner plate as a child: fresh collard greens, ham hock, hot garden peppers, diced onion and tomato and a mound of moist, buttery cornbread. I cannot tell you how many email requests and phone calls I receive for this recipe along with my black-eyed pea salad, Southern cornbread salad and my Chilton County peach cobbler recipe.
I thank God that I was born Southern, learned to cook Southern and that I have grown to be an obnoxiously proud Southern chef who has the opportunity to share our culture and cuisine with the world. Bon appétit, y’all.
Collard Greens Casserole
- 1 bunch of collard greens
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 ham hock
- 1 pint water
- 1 pint chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup diced onions
- 1 cup diced tomatoes
- 1 1/2 quarts cornbread batter (thin with buttermilk)
Remove stems from collard greens and wash greens thoroughly, approximately 4 times. Cut greens into 1/2-inch strips.
Place onion and ham hock in a large pot with water and chicken stock. Cook 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Add more water if needed. Remove ham hock and let cool.
Add greens to liquid and cook approximately 45 minutes, or until tender.
Add crushed red pepper, white vinegar, sugar, salt and black pepper.
Remove meat from the ham bone; chop meat into large pieces.
Place cooked greens into a cast-iron skillet or rectangular baking dish.
Sprinkle diced ham hock, 1 cup diced onions and tomatoes on top of collard greens.
Pour a thin layer of cornbread batter over the top. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until bread topping is golden brown.
Serve with grilled okra, chow chow and hot sauce.
Chef Clayton Sherrod, owner of Chef Clayton’s Food Systems Inc., is an American Culinary Federation Certified Executive Chef and member of the elite American Academy of Chefs. He is also the founder of the American Culinary Federation, Birmingham, Alabama Chapter. Along with the Alabama Gas Corporation, he has co-authored four cookbooks: Top ‘O’ The Morning, A Taste of the South, Simply Southern and Truly Southern.
The views expressed here are those of the author.