At the end of Winter, there is nothing I crave more than fresh greens. Sure, there's kale at the store, and spinach, cabbage, and everything else. But they're not the same as the wild plants.
2018 I was on my wild green-picking grizzly, as we say, and I stocked the freezer with at least 30-40 lbs of wild greens from the yard and gardens of the farm. Every time I'd take the dog out for a walk, I bring a bag or two, and snip, snip, snip as we walked, a sort of challenge to myself to see how much I could amass over the course of the summer.
Well, I did pretty good. It's April 2019 now, and the pan your looking at is filled with the last greens of the 2018 season, literally the last bag that was in the freezer. It was filled with the last late summer greens, the fall growth of sochan, lamb's quarter and galinsoga. Lamb's quarter isn't usually a Fall wild green, but it is when you continually cut back the shoots to encourage regular, fresh growth.
There's nothing insanely creative here, or new, well, besides the venison bacon cured with maple sugar, but good food doesn't always have to be a ground breaking, paradigm shifting experience. Wild greens, especially the sochan here (Rudbeckia laciniata) with it's slightly stronger, aster-esque flavor, cry out for a touch of animal lard, and I don't know a richer one than smoked lard, or drippings from smoked meat, like...bacon.
There's a bit of technique to mention with using blanched, frozen wild greens from the freezer though. In short, you want to make sure the greens are squeezed completely dry after blanching and shocking. It's tempting to want to squeeze all the water out, but a little moisture left in your wild greens not only helps them resist freezer burn, but also helps them not soak up heinous amounts of fat while you're reheating them. If you squeeze the greens dry and try to fry them up with a little fat, the pan will quickly dry out, and the greens can brown on the bottom, which will give them an off flavor.
In a way, this is seasonal Midwestern food for the end of winter, when Spring is just around the corner.
Wild Greens with Venison Bacon
- 8 ounces mixed foraged greens I used sochan, lamb's quarters, and galinsoga
- 2 oz venison bacon diced 1 inch
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper or chili flakes to taste
- Trim the greens of any very hard stems, miscolored parts, bugs or insects. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, it should be salty enough to taste like the sea.
- Have an ice bath, or a basin/bowl filled with very cold water.
- Add the greens to the pot and cook until just wilted. Remove the greens to the cold water, swish them around to quickly chill, and function as a second wash to remove any debris.
- Drain the greens and squeeze most of the water out, but not all. From here the greens can be frozen, or refrigerated for up to 5-7 days, as the salted water extends the shelf life of the greens. Coarsely chop the greens to break up stems, I like to do this in a cross-hatch pattern.
- To finish, add the bacon to a pan, preferably cast iron, and begin rendering on medium heat. When the bacon is crisp to your liking, and some fat has rendered out, drain off the fat until there's only a thin layer in the pan, then add the greens, reduce the heat to low just to warm the greens through.
- Stir the wild greens to mix with the bacon and fat, then double check the seasoning, adjust as needed, and serve immediately.