Finger Food, Toe Food
I made chicken feet for supper yesterday. This is one of those meals that require far too much prep work to be a regular feature on the menu, but the results justify the effort.
Twenty years ago a coworker from Hong Kong introduced me to Dim Sum Phoenix Claws. We don’t live near any place that serves them, and we never eat out anyway, so it has been a long, long time since I’ve last had braised chicken feet. If I wanted chicken feet, it would be up to me to make them.
Chicken feet are a lot of work because chickens, especially pasture raised chickens, really work their feet. They use their feet to scrape dirt and rocks out of the way to search for bugs and seeds. All this scraping and shuffling takes its toll and their feet get get callouses. These need to be carefully trimmed. The yellow outer skin needs to be peeled off. Most of the yellow foot skin usually comes off during the scalding and plucking, but there are always a few stubborn bits that need to be removed. I sort through our chicken feet, setting aside the blemish-free ones for our customers. The ones that require trimming usually end up in our homemade broth, but this time I wanted to do something different with our share of the feet.
I used the SeriousEats recipe as a framework for the process but changed almost all the ingredients. I decided to make the meal more Southwestern (but not purist Southwestern either) since we had those ingredients at hand and in the garden. Instead of anise, ginger, and cinnamon, I used coriander, cumin, parsley, and garlic. Instead of fermented bean paste and long peppers, I used chipotles in adobo and dried ancho chilies. Instead of Shaoxing wine I used our homemade tomato wine. Et cetera. The most important departure from the recipe was deep frying the feet in a 50/50 mix of bacon drippings and lard instead of vegetable oil. I don’t use vegetable oil for deep frying. Never ever.
The third stage (for which there are no pictures) is to braise the feet in a broth for about two hours. I used a blend of chicken and pork stock, with more hot peppers, garlic, onions, and parsley. After braising I reduced the stock to a thick sauce and poured it back over the feet.
After that, all that was left was the eating. This is one of those meals that are perfectly enjoyable to me, perhaps only matched by sitting down to a cauldron of crabs or crawfish. In common with the other two, the meal is all about disassembling little parts, sucking at this little joint or nibbling that bit of meat. This isn’t a meal that can be rushed at the table, so it would be a great one to enjoy with friends, spending a couple hours nibbling around the pot, letting conversations unwind at their own pace.