Dim Sum: Chicken Feet 鳳爪

Chicken Feet 1

Chicken’s feet are a popular snack in many parts of Asia and are a regular item on the menu at dim sum restaurants where they are often not identified as ‘chicken feet’ but rather appear, in writing’ as 鳳爪 (fèng zhǎo), which translates to the slightly more poetic ‘Phoenix Talons’. I first tried them in Toronto about 30 years ago (as part of my first dim sum experience, as it happened) and, as with many westerners, the idea of actually eating the feet seemed a little strange but, after a while, they don’t relay seem that much different from eating wings (although the texture is quite different).

Feet are invariably served in steamer baskets in dim sum restaurants (and this is how they keep them hot), but they are first deep fried which not only gives them some color but also causes them to puff up slightly. Afterwards they are stewed in a simmering sauce that often contains bean paste, sugar, and, quite often whole black beans (though other ingredients and flavourings can be used as well).

The ones in the main picture above, which I recently had in Vancouver)  appeared on the menu as 豆豉鳳爪 (dòu chǐfèng zhǎo), meaning that they are prepared with Chinese Salted Black Bean. Actually, very few beans were apparent (you can just make out a couple), and the usual black bean flavor wasn’t very apparent. The ones in the inset (which I believe I had in Ottawa), were also made using black bean, although the paste rather than whole beans) and they were also really garlicky, as well as being very plump and tender.

There is almost no meat in chickens feet (in contrast to the wing), and it is the skin that gives them the very gelatinous quality that is much loved by the Chinese and favored by me as well. Another factor that distinguishes the feet from the wing is the sheer number of tiny bones. The general approach is to suck larger pieces into your mouth and then work the plump, unctuous skin away from the little bones and then spit these out. In a Chinese restaurant, you will often see people doing this right onto the tablecloth … it’s all part of the experience J

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