Chicken feet. The word yummy doesn’t quite come to mind, at least not at first. My husband loves dim sum chicken feet and I did not when we first met. After a bit of pressure and taunting, I tried my first ever chicken feet and I found it surprisingly delicious. You just have to get over the mental hurdle first. The lesson here? Don’t knock it before you try it. If it helps, close your eyes.
Dim Sum style braised chicken feet is a clever Cantonese way to transform the least desirable part of a bird into something delicious. If you’re new to Dim Sum, steamed chicken feet, also known as Phoenix Talons or Phoenix Claws, is one of the many classic Dim Sum offerings. If you don’t recognize chicken feet on the Dim Sum menu, simply say Feng Zhao to the nice cart ladies and you will be served a small bowl of chewy cartilage poultry goodness. It’s a dish for those who love cartilage, skin, and bones. It’s probably not the best dish to eat on a date, but hey, my husband and I have been happily married for 11 years *high five*.
At my local Asian store, they sell whole chicken feet, toe nails and all. They also sell boneless chicken feet. I stay away from the boneless version just because they look suspiciously white, which doesn’t seem natural. Plus, the fun part of eating chicken feet is eating around the bones.
It’s not an easy task to make Dim-Sum chicken feet at home but it is worth it if you really love chicken feet. Three different cooking methods are required to achieve Dim-Sum style chicken feet at home: deep frying, braising and lastly simmering or steaming in sauce. The three different cooking methods transform leathery chicken feet into tender, gelatinous, and flavorful Feng Zhao.
To make the chicken feet at home, clean the chicken feet properly by trimming off the toe nails and exfoliating the chicken feet with plenty of coarse salt. The salt will remove any surface impurities and any lingering foul poultry smell. Give the chicken feet a good rinse to remove the excess salt. Drain the chicken feet completely dry. Now, they are ready to be deep-fried.
Deep-frying chicken feet is not about getting the chicken feet crispy. The subsequent braising step takes all the crispiness away anyway. Deep frying chicken feet puffs up the skin around the bones so that the marinade that’s added later will seep into all the nook and cranny, making it more flavorful. Also, deep frying the chicken feet is the only chance we get to caramelize the outside with a beautiful golden brown color.
Be careful when deep frying chicken feet. Any chicken skin to oil contact will cause a lot of oil splatter and popping. It’s even worst when there’s moisture on the chicken feet. To minimize death by oil splatter, make sure to dry the chicken very thoroughly with paper towels before adding them to oil. I also like to put the chicken feet into the fridge uncovered for 30 minutes to one hour to dry out the skin. I don’t stop there. I go the extra step of coating the chicken feet in a thin layer of corn starch to absorb any excess moisture that escaped my wrath. As you can tell, I have been hurt plenty by hot oil splatters. Hazmat suits would be best but it’s too expensive.
Heat up the oil, and drop in the dry chicken feet. After 5-8 minutes, remove and drain on paper towels.
The next step is to tenderize the chicken feet by braising. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Toss in ginger slices, star anise, and the golden brown chicken feet. Let it simmer for approximately one and a half hours. At this point, your simmered pot should smell very close to the Dim Sum chicken feet found in restaurants and to think, you have yet to add the marinade!
After simmering, drain the chicken feet. Heat up a bit of sesame oil in a medium-size skillet. Add garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the marinade and toss in the chicken and let it simmer away to reduce and thicken into a incredibly flavorful sauce.
Dim-Sum-Style Braised Chicken Feet with Black Bean Sauce
- 1 lb chicken feet (toe nails removed; scrub thoroughly with 1 teaspoon salt, rinse, drain dry and place in fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour uncovered to dry out skin)
- 1/4 cup corn starch
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying
- 8 cups water
- 1 large piece fresh ginger (thumb-size, lightly smash and slice thin)
- 3 pieces star anise
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 cloves garlic (mince)
- 1 tablespoon black bean and garlic sauce
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1-1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Toss chicken feet in corn starch. Shake off excess.
- Add vegetable oil to a medium size pot and heat to 400°F. Deep fry chicken feet (in batches if needed) for 5-8 minutes or until golden brown. Remove fried chicken feet from oil and drain on a wired rack or a plate lined with paper towels.
- In another medium size, bring water (8 cups) to a boil. Add ginger, star anise, and the deep-fried chicken feet. Braise for 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until tender. Reserve braising liquid.
- In a medium size skillet or wok, heat up sesame oil and garlic. Saute until fragrant. Add black bean sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and black pepper and 1/4 cup of braising liquid. Simmer on low for 10-15 minutes until sauce thickens. Serve immediately.