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A New Way to Cook Kale

Steam is key to bringing out the best in this brassica.
By Published Apr. 3, 2019

My Goals and Discoveries

Speedy, efficient cooking method

The power of hot steam cooks kale efficiently and evenly in just 10 minutes.

Tender, not sodden, texture

Using only a small amount of liquid allows for quick evaporation so that the kale retains a resilient, not soggy, texture.

Highlight kale's natural earthiness

Steaming the kale in chicken stock adds complementary meatiness. We then saute the kale with a few other flavorings that enhance but don't overpower its flavor. 

Truth be told, I’m not a huge kale salad fan. But I also don’t like cooking kale to death: Braising can dull its distinctive flavor and turn it mushy. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something in between? In other words, a side that celebrates kale’s gutsy taste and achieves a tender (but not sodden) texture.

Right away, I decided that dry-heat methods—roasting, broiling, and straight-forward sautéing—were out; they produced either brittle, crisp leaves or ones that were wet but still chewy. A moist environment, at least initially, was essential to produce just-tender greens. I settled on steaming, which didn’t wash away flavor like boiling and blanching did.

Dry-heat methods like roasting, broiling, and sautéing produced kale that was either too brittle or too chewy.

The problem: To cook enough to serve four (about 14 cups of prepped kale, which cooked down to 5 or 6 cups), I had to use a large pot and a steamer basket or colander—a cumbersome setup. Wondering if I could skip the steamer, I poured a cup of water into a Dutch oven, packed in the voluminous leaves, popped on the lid, and cranked the heat to high.

Unfortunately, the water took so long to come to a boil and create a steamy environment that the leaves at the bottom of the pot were hopelessly overcooked by the time the ones on top started to wilt. The next time around, I first boiled the water and then loaded in the kale. Now there was plenty of steam from the beginning, so the kale cooked efficiently and evenly with a stir halfway through. After 7 minutes, the leaves were tender but still had a nice bite. What’s more, they actually tasted like kale.

We steam the kale in only a small amount of liquid that we mostly cook off so the kale keeps a resilient, not soggy texture.

But kale flavor wasn’t enough—the greens needed seasoning. First, I traded the water for chicken broth. This swap gave the dish a meaty backbone without making it taste overtly chicken-y. But since the broth, which had plenty of salt, reduced almost completely, I had to remove any added salt lest the dish become too salty. For vibrancy, I tried pouring in white wine with the broth, but the long exposure to an acidic environment caused a reaction with the chlorophyll in the kale, turning it a drab green. Instead, I added lemon juice to the kale off the heat just before serving, which provided brightness without color‑changing effects.

Lastly, I thought some thinly sliced garlic and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes were in order. I waited until all the moisture in the Dutch oven had evaporated—as signaled by the kale starting to sizzle—before pushing the kale to one side and adding the aromatics, mixed with a bit of oil, to the other side. The garlic became fragrant almost immediately, providing bursts of nutty sweetness to complement the earthy, slightly bitter kale that was neither raw nor braised but, happily, somewhere right in between.

Making Kale Taste Even Better

Adding white wine to the steaming liquid turned the kale a drab olive green, but squeezing lemon juice over the kale just before serving added brightness without a color reaction. Red pepper flakes brought a hit of spice, and the nutty sweetness of garlic was a must. Steaming the kale in chicken broth versus plain water added meaty backbone.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.