Why I love cooking with... chicken feet

Updated on 14 March 2014 | 0 Comments

In the first of a new series, unusual ingredient enthusiast Ilya Fisher tells us why we should all be cooking chicken feet for tea.

The chicken foot is one of the most underappreciated food items in this country. It's packed full of healthy nourishing goodness, has a mix of fabulous textures that make it fun and satisfying to eat, and boasts lots of surface area, making it a great vehicle for delicious sauces. It can also turn water into a rich broth and is beautifully cheap.

In China, chicken feet are considered a delicacy and are found on all dim sum menus, often smothered in a tasty black bean sauce. In Jamaica you will find them in chicken foot soup, accompanied by the infamously hot scotch bonnet chilli pepper. They are a popular ingredient in other countries too, including South Africa where they are known as ‘walkie-talkies’. However, you'll have to search very hard to find them in the UK. 

Collagen for a youthful complexion

Raw chicken feet on a plateChicken feet are a mixture of bone, skin and tendon. In fact it’s not surprising that chicken feet are often found in soup, as many people say chicken feet make the richest tastiest broth that sets into a perfect jelly when it cools. Chicken feet are full of collagen, which aids a youthful complexion, and apparently are full of other easily absorbable nutrients that help ailments such as arthritis and joint pain.

In demand

There was one interesting news item involving chicken feet recently, which illustrates how valuable they can be in China. In May of last year, Chinese police raided a warehouse in the Guangxi province containing, among other items, chicken feet that went past their best before date in 1967! Yet, 46 years later, a Vietnamese smuggling gang had decided to use bleach and other chemicals to whiten the feet, remove bad odours and make them heavier so they would fetch a higher price.

How do you eat chicken feet?

Cooked chicken feetLast weekend, my daughter went out for dim sum with friends and they ordered a portion of chicken feet in black bean sauce. One brave girl who had never tried them before enjoyed a foot, eating the whole thing, bones included. While they may be a good source of calcium, the bones are not meant to be eaten.

If you enjoy gnawing on a chicken leg or spare ribs then you may well enjoy grappling with a chicken foot. It’s a marvellous mix of different soft and chewy textures. You can gently nibble around the foot pretending it is a chicken leg but for the full experience there is another way. Bite a piece off, play with it in your mouth sucking and biting the ‘meat’ off and gently spit out the little bones. Probably not a perfect first date dish.

Sourcing and preparation

Chicken feet in supermarketI find the easiest place to find chicken feet is in the freezer section of Oriental supermarkets. Chicken feet often have a membrane that needs to be removed, but in my experience these frozen ones are already prepared. You will still have to chop off the toenails though – a job I found a bit creepy the first time. Once cooked, chicken feet look delicious but sitting there raw, with long toes and sharp talons, they look a bit like an old woman’s hand. Please don’t let that put you off this culinary adventure. Simply use a knife to chop off the top bit of the toe with the nail on. That’s it. They are ready for throwing into your stock pot or for your chicken foot recipe. 

My spicy chicken foot recipe 

Fancy cooking chicken feet yourself? Then give my spicy chicken feet with black bean sauce a go (it's pictured above with the red chilli on top).

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