Pot Liquor: A Southern Tip To Save Nutritious Broth From Greens

Aug 7, 2013
Originally published on August 7, 2013 2:07 pm

We don't have to tell you about the growing popularity of greens. From kale to collards to turnips, we've learned to embrace their nutrient-packed bitterness.

So here's a tip: When you're cooking up a big pot of greens, don't toss out what may be the most nutritious part — the brothy water that's left in the pot.

Lots of the beneficial nutrients cook out of the greens. And what's left? Well, if you learned to cook in a traditional Southern kitchen, you'd call it pot liquor. (Though some insist it's "potlikker.")

As I explain in my conversation with Here & Now, some people drink it as a tonic. Others use it as a soup base. And James Huff, chef de cuisine at Pearl Dive in Washington, D.C., who learned his trade in some of New Orleans' top kitchens, uses pot liquor to create some incredible entrees.

For instance, he takes the leftover pot liquor from collards and reduces it with a sauté of garlic, shallots, tomato concasse, chicken stock, black-eyed peas and clams, then pours it over an entire grilled fish. Tasty.

So, what's the skinny on the nutrient loss? Well, some of the vitamins in greens are water soluble. Take, for instance, vitamin C. Researchers in Spain evaluated the total flavonoid and vitamin content of fresh spinach. In their study they found that boiling extracted 50 percent of total flavonoids and 60 percent vitamin C into the cooking water.

As we reported before, in order to maximize the amount of nutrients you're getting from your food, sometimes you have to add a little fat, too (as there is in the green recipe below).

For instance, carotenoids are fat-soluble. Those are the pigments that give red, yellow or orange coloring to food and are also found in dark green vegetables. Carotenoids convert to vitamin A in the body, and your body is going to absorb more of them if you eat them with a little oil or other fat.

So, how do you make a big ole pot of greens? Here is James Huff's recipe. Enjoy, y'all!

2 lbs greens cut into thick ribbons (mustard, kale, collard or turnip)

1 smoked ham hock

1 Spanish onion, julienned

1 cup diced bacon

2 tsp. red chili flakes

2 tsp. sugar

2 cups water or chicken stock

In a saute pot, fry up bacon until crispy, add ham hock and onion. Saute until onions are translucent. Add chili flakes, sugar and greens. Saute briefly, then add the liquid (water or stock). Cook down (covered) over low heat until greens are tender. You may need to add more liquid as necessary. Adjust seasoning to personal taste (vinegar, salt, pepper, etc.).

And, of course, what's left in the bottom of the pot? You now know it's pot liquor.

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