Collard greens cooked with smoked ham hocks are a traditional Southern staple. The ham hocks flavor the greens with an unmistakable richness, and the slow-simmered collards become tender and silky in the cooking liquid. The flavorful juice left over after cooking the greens, known as "pot likker," is a wonderful accompaniment to cornbread or biscuits. Try splashing the greens with a bit of vinegar or hot sauce before serving.
Place the ham hocks in a large pot and cover them with cold water. You'll need 1 large ham hock or 2 small ones, totaling 1 1/4 pounds, for every 2 bunches of collard greens. If you wish, you may also add a few whole cloves of peeled garlic to the pot. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook the ham hocks until they are very tender, about 2 hours. Pour in additional water as needed to keep the ham hocks covered.
Prepare your collard greens while the ham hocks cook. Thoroughly wash each leaf, dislodging any dirt or debris that may be stuck. Remove the thick center stem from the leaves and separate each leaf into two halves. Stack several leaves on top of each other and cut crosswise into thick strips, about 1 1/2- to 2-inches wide.
Remove the ham hock from the pot and add the chopped collard greens to the liquid. Bring them to a simmer and partially cover the pot. Cook the greens until they are tender enough for your liking, at least 45 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Prepare the ham hock to add to greens. Remove the skin and discard, along with the bone. Shred the remaining meat and set aside until the greens are finished cooking.
Add the shredded meat to the greens once they have finished cooking. Season the greens with salt and pepper before serving.