Kicking off my New Year’s blogging with a very old ingredient in some very old cuisines.
I feed my dog Jack chicken feet as part of his raw diet, and I’ve been doing it so long I don’t think anything of it. (He prefers them frozen, like little feetsicles.)
It’s while watching a friend’s reaction as Jack crunches away on his treat (a little horror mixed with revulsion) that I’m reminded the poultry paws, in many countries, would never go to the dogs, as it were.
Indeed, as Canadian restaurants are enjoying a menu renaissance of offal, organ meat, and other secondary animal parts, chicken feet remain off the radar. We’ve had the luxury of picking and choosing only certain cuts from our farm animals, while casting off the unwanted, unsightly, bits. While that’s changed with the resurgence of “nose-to-tail” eating, there’s still no sign of feet.
You have to look to less prosperous cultures (I’m speaking in generalities here), ones less wasteful by necessity, to see what can be done with chicken feet.
Eastern Europe, Southern Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and East Asia all have countries where you can find dishes involving chicken feet. Due to the high amount of cartilage, many tiny bones, and lack of meat, chicken feet are typically stewed and used to flavour soups. There are health benefits to eating the feet and while claims run from more youthful complexions to longer life, it is true that the feet are a source of collagen and glucosamine, believed to benefit joint health.
The gelatinous texture and aforementioned tiny bones don’t make for an appealing mouthfeel (maybe that’s why Jack likes his frozen?), but one of these days I’m going to get around to cooking some for myself. Human grade chicken feet can be found in Chinese markets, and in many grocery stores in larger centres where there’s likely to be a population of folks for whom they’re part of their native cuisine.
I found a few interesting recipes (linked below), and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve either had chicken feet before, or if you do try out one of these, or just want to share your experiences with putting the (chicken’s) foot in your mouth.
Jamaica Travel & Culture provides a Chicken Foot Stew recipe here.
Check out Serious Eats for a dim sum classic, Phoenix Claws, here.
And over at Foodthinkers, a Mexican-style Fried Chicken Food recipe here.