Mustard greens have a refinement that makes them a little too good to swim around with a ham hock in stock for an hour like collards and other bitter greens. Mustard greens are on the mild side of the bitter-green spectrum, and they show off their toothy texture and pleasant bitterness when just heated through.
Celebrating or Tempering Bitterness
A quick dip in lightly salted, boiling water expels some of the bitterness inherent to mustard greens by neutralizing the enzymes that cause it. Embracing the natural bitterness of mustard greens instead of softening it with the use of a fat, pungent spices or food acid -- or all three -- pushes the pleasantness of their piquancy to the front and frames it against an earthy background. Blanching mustard greens is a way to refine them. Even though you don't have to blanch greens, it gives you more room to play with other ingredients when using them raw or with mild proteins, such as oysters and seafood. Blanching mustard greens also brightens their color. Blanch mustard greens in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 seconds; then cool them down rapidly in ice water afterward.
Mustard greens are one of the tender bitter greens and are similar to endive and kale in that respect. Raw mustard greens go anywhere salad greens go and a little further. For example, you can puree uncooked mustard greens with a little olive oil, Parmesan, herbs and garlic for a quick pesto, or use them as an edible packet for steaming cooked rice pilaf. Mustard greens stand up to a host of pungent flavors, too. A salad comprising anchovy fillets, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and Asiago cheese hits the umami button in all the right places and uses the mustard greens for flavor, not filler. Cut the thick rib out of the center of the leaves and slice them into 1/4- to 1/2-inch strips before serving mustard greens raw.
Cooking mustard greens quickly and over high heat in olive oil with a few pungent ingredients, such as garlic, shallots and -- if you're into heat, a thinly sliced chili pepper -- sandwiches their pleasant bitterness within a trifecta of spicy and pungent. Sauteing retains the toothy bite of mustards while just heating them through, so they retain their structure, making them a good accompaniment to proteins like meat and chicken. Slice the mustard greens into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-wide strips and saute them with aromatic ingredients, about 1 to 2 minutes. Twirl the greens onto the center of the plate to make a nest, similar to when plating pasta, and arrange sliced beef or chicken on top; it's a presentation and taste that make you say, "Wow!"
Other Serving Suggestions
Mustard greens cook quickly, so you can drop them into soups and stir-fries in the last minute or two of cooking for an invigorating injection of color and texture. And don't forget the grill, either. Next time you're cooking burgers or steaks on the barbecue, coat a bunch or two of mustard greens with a thin layer of olive oil and set them off to the side. Cook the greens just until they develop some char and smokiness, about 1 to 2 minutes, and serve alongside the beef as a complementary side.
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