Chicken feet - gnarly, repulsive and disturbing - make for the very best stock. Devoid of little else but tendons, bone and cartilage (sound appetizing yet?), chicken feet produce a fine golden broth that's rich in all those obscure nutrients that make a good stock so nourishing: glucosamine chondroitin, collagen and trace minerals. Moreover, a chicken stock is an excellent source of calcium without . Understandably, a stock made from chicken feet gels beautifully just as a good stock should.
Saturday morning, I pulled out a bag of chicken feet and as I peeled the yellow membrane from the feet and hacked away the talons, I couldn't help but reflect upon my relationship with food. Dear God, I thought, I was a vegan once! I used to gag at opening a package of lunch meat, and now I can peel and hack my way through a bag of chicken feet with nary an ill feeling That is until my 4-year old tapped me on a shoulder with a disembodied claw. Eeeew! Then there was that time when I accidentally left a bag full of chicken feet fresh from the farmers market in the fridge at the office.
Chicken feet can be difficult to find - that is, until you know where to look. They don't come packaged on little Styrofoam trays, wrapped in plastic. Ethnic markets - those last bastions of traditional foods - often carry chicken feet, heads and other miscellaneous parts that are forgotten in conventional cooking. Farmers markets can be another source. Most importantly, your local farm offering pastured poultry may also have a stash from the latest harvest. If purchasing your chicken feet at a market, they will usually run you $1 - $2 per pound; however, if you purchase your whole chickens farmer-direct they will often throw the chicken feet in the bag at your request. These chicken feet came from a local, family-run farm that also specializes in grass-fed lamb.
Preparing Chicken Feet for the Stock Pot
In many cases, the chicken feet will arrive already prepared, more or less; however, if you receive them directly from your local farm you may need to dress the chicken feet yourself. This is easy. First, you'll rub them with salt and scald them briefly in boiling water followed by an icy bath. This practice enables you to more easily peel the yellow membrane on the foot. After peeling the yellow membrane from the feet, chop the talons off at the first knuckle. Some cooks prefer to leave the talon on the foot. In the above picture, you'll see chicken feet in the three stages of preparation: 1. fresh, 2. peeled and 3. declawed.When blanching the chicken feet, take great care not to blanch the feet too long or you will overcook the feet, fusing the yellow membrane to the foot and activating the gelling process. Moreover, overcooking will also cause the tendons in the feet to contract, making peeling virtually impossible. Be brief.
Once the feet are fully prepared by cleaning, blanching, peeling and talon removal, they're ready for the stock pot. A stock prepared from chicken feet, like any stock, is widely variable and can be seasoned based on your personal preference. Preferring a mild-tasting broth in most recipes, I usually season my broth with vegetable scraps including celery leaves, onion and carrot peelings; however, from time to time, I like to change the flavor of the stock a touch and heat it up with chilies, ginger and other spices. The stock recipe detailed below is very well-suited to Asian-inspired dishes and perfect for cold and flu season when a nourishing, mineral-rich broth infused with chilies and spice can help clear the sinuses.