It’s not just Southern food, and Seattle chef “Big Mike” Whisenhunt’s recipe is good for more than just barbecue, too.
COLLARDS MIGHT BE a traditional Southern dish, but Northwesterners can still enjoy them to the fullest.
Cooks don’t get much more local, after all, than “Big Mike” Whisenhunt, who was raised in Ballard. His first taste of collards was from a friend’s grandmother, who he remembers cooking them around Christmas. (They’re considered a New Year’s good luck tradition.) He got his first taste of restaurant work not long after, washing dishes at Hiram’s at the Locks, a one-time destination restaurant, for his first summer job.
After working in an office the following summer, “I realized I could not sit at a desk,” he says. “I fell in love with that excitement and energy of a kitchen.” He returned to the Hiram’s location when it reopened as Pescatore, went to culinary school in Portland, then came back to stay.
“A lot of my friends live in this area, and I consider a lot of my friends family. I just kind of came back home. I love Seattle,” he says. “It’s never too hot, never too cold, growing fast, and the food is getting better and better all the time.”
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Whisenhunt spent years working with Korean-fusion champions Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, including opening their original Joule restaurant. He’s currently back home in Ballard at Brimmer & Heeltap, where a mess of collard greens was the surprise star at a communal feast dinner the restaurant staffers put on last summer. With a sideboard groaning under the weight of barbecued ribs, tri tip and brisket, strawberry ketchup and chili lime caramel dipping sauce, the remarkable greens stood out as a pile of silky, pork-spiked pleasure.
Rough, tough collards stand up to bold flavors, and Whisenhunt obliges with the recipe he developed. He starts off by cutting up slab bacon. His twist — most of his dishes have a fusion tweak — is to cook them in sake rather than water, broth or wine. “It’s just a cleaner flavor than white wine,” he says. He finishes his big batch off with 100 twists of a pepper grinder — it sounds like a lot, he says, but “it’s not really that much when it comes to collard greens.”
It’s good eaten anywhere — or with almost anything.
“You don’t have to serve them with just barbecue,” he says. “You can serve them with anything from chicken to fish . . . It’s not just Southern food.”
Collard Greens For A Crowd
Serves 8-10 as a side dish
½ pound slab bacon, diced (or cut into larger pieces if you prefer)
1 medium onion, diced
12 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 quart cooking sake (preferably) or white wine
4 bunches collard greens, cleaned, ribs removed, cut into bite-size pieces
Apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper to taste
1. Add diced bacon to a large stock pot and cook on medium heat until bacon is browned.
2. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender.
3. Add the sake or wine, turn heat to high and bring mixture to a boil.
4. When it comes to a boil, add collard greens, one big handful at a time, stirring them and waiting a minute for each bunch to cook down before adding the next.
5. Cover the pot, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for another 30 to 45 minutes, taking care that there’s still some liquid in the pot and the greens don’t burn.
6. Remove from heat, add 100 twists from a pepper mill, season with salt to taste and a splash of apple cider vinegar.