What it means
Potlikker is a totem of Southern tradition and country pride. But it also stands for the notion that sometimes the collateral of cooking is more delicious than the dish itself.
Like the tottery chicken carcass pulled from a soup pot, or the crusted bits of cheese clinging to the sides of a mac-and-cheese pan, potlikker is a byproduct. It's the greenish water that remains after boiling collard, turnip or mustard greens, usually with meat and spices.
During the plantation era, when planters only wanted cooked greens on their tables, the salvaged potlikker became an important component of African-American cuisine. According to Adrian Miller's "Soul Food," slaves who were allowed to keep gardens almost always grew greens, and prepared them in plenty of water. Potlikker also figured into the diets of poor whites, which is why Louisiana Senator Huey Long in 1931 was able to burnish his populist credentials by mocking Southerners who crumbled their cornpone into potlikker. (Long dunked.)
Because the broth absorbs nutrients along with color, it's long been prized as a natural cure for weakness, rabies and stomachaches. It also picks up flavors, which is why it's more recently emerged as a favorite of high-end restaurant chefs.
John T. Edge, who directs the Southern Foodways Alliance, which tweets under the handle @potlikker, wrote his graduate thesis on Long's potlikker crusade. In a recent issue of The Oxford American, Edge notes the boiled peanut potlikker at Hugh Acheson's Five & Ten in Athens, Ga.; maitake mushroom potlikker in Denver; and Husk's pork shoulder with potlikker broth.
"I don't wonder how potlikker came to be a vanguard ingredient in so many contemporary kitchens," Edge wrote. "Instead, I wonder why this run of rediscovery took so long."
Where we saw it
Husk (Pork, butterbeans and Sea Island red peas with Tuscan kale and potlikker broth, $30)
Where else you can try it
Magnolias adds a "spicy shellfish potlikker" to its Lowcountry bouillabaisse, and the Early Bird Diner serves a Potlikker Noodle Bowl with ramen and pulled pork.
Where to buy it
Although jarred organic potlikker increasingly sounds like a plausible product, until an artisan invents it, you're stuck boiling your own greens.