Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

How I Lost and Regained Respect for Viola Davis Through Barbecue Greens

by 
Tyree Rush
January 13, 2021

If you were listing iconic Black treasures from the Southern United States, Viola Davis would undoubtedly appear in the top 10, but greens would be in the top two, and they’re not number two. Whether collards, turnip greens, kale, or as is called for in today’s recipe, mustards; greens have long been a staple in southern cooking, and the most popular side dish in the South aside from the French fry.

Likewise, Viola Davis has ascended to legendary status with her Academy-Award winning role in Fences as well as her tear-jerking performances on stage and the silver screen. Hailing from South Carolina, Ms. Davis is an actor’s actor and has really set a high bar for pushing the limitations of what an artist must give in creating a dynamic body of work.  

So, what do the two icons have to do with one another? Well, nothing, that is, before the 74th Golden Globe Awards when Viola Davis decided to regale America with how she tried to one-up Meryl Streep with her recipe for collard greens.

It’s a well-known fact that you don’t simply eat everyone’s greens. Usually only one or two members per family, per generation, will be entrusted with the task of making them. Even if a younger member comes up with a better recipe, they’d literally have to wait until someone died before they could institute it as canon.

So, imagine my surprise when Viola Davis of all people took the stage to let America in on what she called “the best collard greens,” only to tell us that her secret ingredient is barbecue sauce. Barbecue sauce? I mean, she may as well have told me she puts raisins in her potato salad. Being Black, Southern, and a greens connoisseur, I had never heard of such a combination – an abomination. I became incensed. Viola went on to win both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Fences that year, and while the moment was historic for many reasons, with her declaration of barbecue collard greens, I was ready to insist they take all the awards back.

But as much as my nascent response was to reject Viola’s heresy and disparage her for the remainder of time, I couldn’t deny the curiosity that built inside me. It’s like when someone says there’s a foul odor coming from somewhere. As much as you have no desire to smell something bad, you also cannot resist not knowing what the smell is. Even more coiled deep inside me was the need to know: Could these greens actually slap?

No items found.

Naturally, I couldn’t just call the legendary Ms. Davis and ask for her recipe (we assume her reps would decline to comment). So, equipped with little more than two large pots and a litany of unused Walmart gift cards, I began the most important scientific research of my life, all the while, the reputation of an American icon hanging in the balance based on what I might find.

Since Viola is from South Carolina, I thought the barbecue sauce she’d most likely use would be mustard-based. I tried that, and enjoyed it on the collards and turnips (Ms. Kale simply did not have the range), but when I used the sauce with actual mustard greens, I knew there was a winner. Mustard greens + mustard sauce shocked my taste buds as much as it did my concept of cooking greens. The thought was so obvious that if you weren’t careful, you would almost miss its brilliance. 

This recipe is more than an inventive take on a classic side dish. It is the often-undelivered vindication to those of us brave enough to disrupt the status quo and shift culture, which Viola has now done twice. She really does give so much!

Barbecue Greens That Lowkey Slap

Prep Time: 15 minutes
 | 
Cook Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
 | 
Makes a generous quart

Ingredients

  • 5 bunches of Mustard Greens roughly chopped, stalks included
  • 2 turkey wings
  • 4 turkey necks (If you can’t find this many, double up on the wings and/or add in legs until your turkey parts equal about 4 lbs. If you want to avoid fishing out lots of tiny neck bones from your stock pot later, favor wings and legs. Either raw or smoked will work.)
  • 1 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 32. oz cartons of high-quality chicken stock
  • ¼ cup of red bell pepper, chopped and seeded
  • ¼ tsp of allspice
  • 3 tsp of dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper, or a few generous grinds, to taste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf

For the Carolina Barbecue Sauce:

  • ¾ cup yellow mustard
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp kosher sea salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 3 tbsp dry mustard
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp tomato sauce
Prep Time: 15 minutes
 | 
Cook Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
 | 
Makes a generous quart

Ingredients

  • 5 bunches of Mustard Greens roughly chopped, stalks included
  • 2 turkey wings
  • 4 turkey necks (If you can’t find this many, double up on the wings and/or add in legs until your turkey parts equal about 4 lbs. If you want to avoid fishing out lots of tiny neck bones from your stock pot later, favor wings and legs. Either raw or smoked will work.)
  • 1 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 32. oz cartons of high-quality chicken stock
  • ¼ cup of red bell pepper, chopped and seeded
  • ¼ tsp of allspice
  • 3 tsp of dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper, or a few generous grinds, to taste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf

For the Carolina Barbecue Sauce:

  • ¾ cup yellow mustard
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp kosher sea salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 3 tbsp dry mustard
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp tomato sauce

Ingredients

  • 5 bunches of Mustard Greens roughly chopped, stalks included
  • 2 turkey wings
  • 4 turkey necks (If you can’t find this many, double up on the wings and/or add in legs until your turkey parts equal about 4 lbs. If you want to avoid fishing out lots of tiny neck bones from your stock pot later, favor wings and legs. Either raw or smoked will work.)
  • 1 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 32. oz cartons of high-quality chicken stock
  • ¼ cup of red bell pepper, chopped and seeded
  • ¼ tsp of allspice
  • 3 tsp of dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper, or a few generous grinds, to taste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf

For the Carolina Barbecue Sauce:

  • ¾ cup yellow mustard
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp kosher sea salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 3 tbsp dry mustard
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp tomato sauce

Directions

1. Fill a large tub, pot, or a clean sink with enough cold water to completely submerge all the mustard greens and swish with your hands for 1-2 minutes, then let the greens float to the top and sit for 10 minutes. Carefully lift the greens out of the water and onto a draining rack, a colander, or a clean dish towel – the grit and dirt will have settled to the bottom, so take caution not to do any more swishing!

2. Tear the leaves away from the stalks, roughly chop, and set aside. Gather enough of the stems together and cut into 1” lengths. Mustard stalks aren’t as thick as Collards, nonetheless, they can be tough if not cooked all the way through. So, gather some of the thicker stalks and cut them so that they’re about half an inch thick. All together, amass one cup (or more or less, depending upon personal preference) of chopped stalks.

3. Pour the olive oil into a large stock pot and set it to medium heat. Add your onion, red bell pepper, and jalapeño peppers, allowing to cook until tender; about 5-7 minutes. (It’s important to know your spice comfort here. If you like a spicy green as I do, go ahead and chop your jalapeños with the seed still in the core. But if you have a more mild-mannered tongue, it’s best you seed the peppers.)

4. After sautéing your onions and peppers, add the minced garlic in, allowing it to cook for about a minute. Those stalks that were put aside earlier are now due for a comeback. Grab your cup’s-worth (or however much you like) and toss them in the pot.

5. While the stalks are simmering, if you’re a person who washes your poultry (this is entirely optional, as some experts actually advise against it as not to spread bacteria in your kitchen), rinse your raw turkey necks and wings/legs thoroughly under cold water making sure there aren’t weird feathers or muck on them. If using smoked, you definitely don’t have to do this.

Another optional tip: Size up the length of your raw turkey necks and begin to make incisions on them about 2 inches away from the base on either side, and one in the middle. This will just help the meat more easily fall off of the bone.

Place your wings and necks in the pot and then cover in the chicken stock (I repeat, stock, not broth) along with the brown sugar, thyme, bay leaf, and four tbsp of the Carolina BBQ Sauce. Allow the meat to cook for about 45 minutes over medium heat until tender. This should be plenty of time if you’re using smoked turkey. If you’re using raw, and depending on the size of your necks and wings/legs, you may want to allow them to cook up to 90 minutes, just check on the tenderness of the meat before adding greens. 

 6. Remove the turkey/thyme/bay from the pot, also removing any bones that may have remained. Once the turkey parts have cooled enough to handle, shred the meat off with a fork and then return it to the pot. Add your greens along with the remaining seasonings. Mix them into the stock, ensuring they’re just barely submerged, and cover and cook for about five minutes. (If the greens aren’t submerged, add a bit of additional stock or water.) The greens will wilt quickly. Allow it all to cook down over the course of 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. About an hour into the process, add an additional two tablespoons of the Carolina BBQ Sauce to the pot. Once there’s not much liquid left in the pot, then they are good to go!

Naturally, they pair well with cornbread.

About the Author

Tyree Rush

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