Chicken Feet at the Hum Sung Restaurant in Ottawa
Chicken Feet, more poetically known in Chinese as 鳳爪, or ‘Phoenix Claws’, are standards in Dim Sum restaurant menus, although they are not widely popular with Westerners, who tend to view them as exotic and a bit strange. This is a it, really, because they are no functionally different than eating Chicken Wings, although the textures is a bit different.
When I ordered the dish you see above at the Hum Sung Restaurant in Ottawa, the waitress was very surprised that I, a non-Chinese, would order these and asked, with some incredulity ‘You like Chicken feet?’. I just shrugged and said I liked them the last time I had them and, for some reason, this struck her as very funny. She was very pleased, after my meal, when I told her that they were the best I had ever had.
Chicken 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 steamed, then stewed in a simmering sauce, that often contains bean paste, sugar, and, quite often whole Chinese Salted Black Beans (though other ingredients and flavourings can be used as well).
There is very little meat in the 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 favoured by me as well). Another factor that distinguishes the feet from the wing is the sheer number of tiny bones. The general approach, when you are eating them, 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. I generally do not do this, though, unless I see others around me doing it first.
Anyway, the Chicken Feet at Hum Sung had a wonderful aroma when brought, still steaming, to my table, and they were a treat for the eye as well, with a lovely golden color. They were beautifully cooked and very plump and tender. he meat and skin came easily from the bone but it was still nicely chewy and with the proper, slightly ‘gelatinous’ mouth-feel. Often, I find that the sauce that comes with chicken feet is bland and uninteresting but this was delicious. It was piquant, nicely sweet and savory, and, though there was not much hint of Salted Black Bean, there was a liberal use of garlic that really made the whole dish sing.