July 18th, 2012
I first had chicken feet as Dim Sum in Chinatown’s New World restaurant, nearly 30 years ago. It’s an odd dish, mostly just skin and sauce, but the sauce is so good that I order them every time I go there. I did want to make chicken feet the last time I had whole chickens, but I got a bit busy, so this time I made a special effort to cook them!
I had a good look at a few recipes online, but none of them sounded as authentic as the one I have in a book by Fuchsia Dunlop. The book is called Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper and it describes Fuchsia’s experience in China, as the first Westerner (and woman) to enrol in the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. The descriptions are so vivid, I wanted to eat every single dish mentioned, or better still, get the next plane to China! I didn’t follow the recipe verbatim, but all credit goes to Fuchsia.
Chicken Feet recipe (serves 1 as a starter):
6 chicken feet
a teaspoon of sugar
oil for deep frying
1 teaspoon of dried crushed chilli (Fuchsia Dunlop used Sichuan pepper)
1 star anise
a piece of cassia bark or cinnamon
20g fresh ginger, sliced into 3 pieces
2 teaspoons of fresh chopped garlic
1 tablespoon of fermented black beans (rinsed)
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon of soy sauce (or to taste)
Clip the nails and ends off the chicken feet and wash them (considering how dirty these were, I soaked them for an hour in salty water). Blanch them in sugar infused simmering water for a couple of minute. Remove and allow to dry.
When dry, deep fry the feet in very hot oil, until they go a golden colour. Be careful, they will probably spit a lot, so a deep fryer with lid is a good idea.
Allow to drain on some kitchen towel.
This is the bit that convinced me to use the recipe – this adds additional flavour while tenderising. Put the chicken feet, ginger, cassia, star anise and chilli into a litre of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. This smells divine while it cooks. When tender, remove the feet, allow to drain and dispose of the other ingredients. At this point you can set the chicken feet aside and finish the recipe later if doing them for a dinner party – the next and last bit only takes 5 minutes or so.
When ready, heat 2 tablespoons of oil (one with a high smoking point like groundnut oil is good) in a wok and fry the garlic briefly. Spoon in the black beans and oyster sauce, stir in 100 ml water, add the chicken feet and bring to the boil. I sprinkled on a pinch of crushed chilli. Keep stirring and reduce the sauce until its thick and coats the chicken feet as per the top photo. I used about a teaspoon of soy sauce as seasoning.
I was really impressed – these tasted better than the New World. They were firmer because they were fresher – I imagine New World prepare their’s in advance and just heat them up. However, New World is well worth a visit, Chinese girls push trolleys of Dim Sum around the tables and you get to choose your food from what they show you in little baskets – it’s a great foodie experience and the only one I’ve found with trolleys in London.
I recommend drinking Tsingtao beer with chicken feet.