The Nasty Bits: Chicken Feet, Reconsidered
I have been eating chicken feet in the same manner for most of my life—ever since I spouted teeth and was able to gnaw—that at some point I was bound to hit a saturation point. Maybe it's just the coldness settling in for the season, but I felt listless and indecisive about what I would do with my last batch of feet.
Chicken feet in my kitchen are usually deep-fried and then simmered or steamed. The deep-frying makes the skin puffy so that when the feet are simmered, the surface takes on a wrinkly prune-like quality and the tendons become pliable and fun to eat. Of course you could forgo with deep-frying and simmer the feet as they are, but chicken feet that have not had the benefit of deep-frying never achieve the same puffy dimensions.
Deep-frying and then simmering is a good method if what you're aiming for is gelatinous chicken feet. This is what I have always done, and I suppose I was just tired of the same old thing.
So this time around, I reversed the order—first simmered, then deep-fried. The results were sufficiently different as to reinvigorate my love of chicken feet.
Deep-fried without a coating, the skin of the feet take on a texture similar to pork cracklings, though not nearly as fatty. Deep-fried with a batter of eggs and flour, the chicken feet taste something in the ballpark of fried chicken. There may not be any meat on the feet, but what they lack in flesh they make up for in texture and chicken-y flavor. Either way, what you have when you reverse the order is your typical bar or pub food fare: crispy, salty, and heavy-feeling when it reaches your gut. In other words, it's addictive and very good. (You can simmer the chicken feet in any number of ingredients. I am always partial to soy sauce and cinnamon, but bay leaves, cloves, and other herbs would be welcome too. Also, know that a pressure cooker will make quick work of those tough tendons, if you happen to possess such a contraption.)
Finally, if you are fortunate enough to have access to chicken feet from pastured birds, you'll probably have noticed the yellowness of the fat, among other distinguishing features. I've only ever seen this on pastured chickens, that their feet tend to come with callouses on their undersides. The callouses are, admittedly, not the most pleasant things to have to pull off a batch of feet for which you must already go through the trouble of clipping away nails, but that's the way it goes. Simply pull and scratch away the round little nubs until they come off, and proceed accordingly.
About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.