Offal of the Week: Chicken Feet
If it's Friday, it must be Offal of the Week! Brought to you by Ryan Adams, author of the blog Nose to Tail at Home, each week we highlight a different part of the animal that you've always wanted to work with, but were afraid to ask your butcher for. This week: Chicken feet.
This week we continue our journey through the more unusual bits that an animal has to offer, the offal of the offal. These bits and pieces are more obscure, not written about as often as the glamorous bits like tripe or heart, but still no less deserving of attention. Today, I'll be talking about a staple of Asian cuisine: chicken feet.
The first time I found myself facing the prospect of eating chicken feet was at a Dim Sum restaurant in Cupertino, California. The waiter had asked us if we were interested in an order of "Phoenix Claw", and in my ignorance I had said yes. With a wink he reached into his steam cart and placed a basket of slick, golden brown feet in front of us. After building up enough courage I snagged a foot from the steam basket and took a bite. The texture was the first thing that struck me: gelatinous, with a tiny little bone at the center. On their own the feet had little flavor, but they had taken on some of the traits of the fermented black beans and bean paste they were cooked with. I enjoyed those Phoenix Claws quite a bit, and I consider that meal my first step into a much more interesting culinary world.
While the Chinese are big chicken feet eaters, they aren't alone. South African cuisine has a recipe where the feet are boiled to soften them, then they are liberally seasoned before grilling. In the Philippines, they marinate the feet before grilling and selling them on the street under the nickname "Adidas" in honor of the shoe brand. Jamaicans tend to use them in a long simmered soup along with special spices, dumplings and various vegetables. And many a Jewish grandmother will tell you that nothing adds depth and flavor to a stewpot of chicken soup than a healthy handful of feet.
Finding yourself a few chicken feet is as simple as walking into your closest Asian market. They're pretty darn inexpensive and they freeze well, so pick up a couple dozen and keep them on hand. The feet you end up not using in recipes can be put to good use making stock. Since the skin is so full of cartilage, the stock will end up being full bodied and will have a very robust, velvety mouthfeel. The process is fairly simple: scrub the feet thoroughly to remove any dirt, use a sharp knife to chop off the tips of the feet, including the claws, and to scrape away any rough black spots. From there they are ready for grilling, boiling or stewing.
While I'm sure you might have a few reservations about eating chicken feet, I assure you that they can make for some seriously good eats. Here are a few recipes to prove me right: