Chicken feet may not offer much meat to speak of, but when they're deep-fried, they make up for it in crunchy texture and chicken-y flavor. Simmering them first in a water bath with simple flavorings—garlic, soy sauce, sugar, and cinnamon—leaves them abundantly tender inside, ready to take on the crispy shell that makes them such an addictive snack.
Why It Works
- A simple mix of aromatics, salt, and sugar in the simmering liquid adds flavor to the chicken feet.
- You can batter the chicken feet before deep-frying to achieve a crunchy texture reminiscent of fried chicken, or skip the batter for a snack similar to pork cracklings (though much less fatty).
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.
- Yield:Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer
- Active time: 40 minutes
- Total time:About 2 hours
- For Simmering:
- 1 pound (450g) chicken feet
- 1 teaspoon (4g) kosher salt, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon (15g) sugar
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 stick cinnamon
- For Deep-Frying and to Serve:
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup flour (about 4 1/2 ounces; 128g) mixed with 1 teaspoon (4g) salt
- 1 quart (900ml) oil for deep-frying
- Sea salt, for serving
Clip the toenails from the chicken feet and wash the feet, removing calluses and any loose-hanging skin.
Place the chicken feet in a 2-quart sauté pan and add enough water to cover. Add all simmering ingredients to pan and bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until feet are tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Remove feet from cooking liquid, which can be reserved for another purpose. Allow feet to cool.
Whisk eggs and flour/salt mixture in a medium bowl. Dip feet into batter, shaking off excess flour. If needed, dip the feet twice, to ensure they're fully coated.
In a wok, bring 1 quart (900ml) oil to 375°F (190°C). Add feet in batches and deep-fry until batter is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Have a lid ready in the event of splattering oil. Serve immediately, adding a sprinkling of sea salt if needed. (Alternatively, you can skip the batter and fry the feet plain. Dress with more soy sauce and chili oil, as desired.)