what does chicken feet do to stock/broth?
The exotic food thread on the GT board got me thinking about whether it was worth including feet in my stockpot, and if so if I needed to prepare/clean it in some special way. Others have suggested it makes it more 'chickeny'. Those things have probably been in some manky stuff before they met their bitter end, so I'm feeling like I should be a bit cautious about this one.
A chicken feet story I'm childishly proud of: bought a chicken once with all the bits on. I was holding the feet in an effort to to cut them off, and because it's a mechanical system of pulley-like tendons I was putting pressure on, the bird started scratching the palm of my hand as I cut. Yeesh!
I believe you are on the right track. I am of the understanding that chicken feet make the stock more flavorful and more deeply yellow, perhaps from the fat in the thick skin and the gelatin from the joints of the toes (as oppossed to the brown color that you get from adding onion skins)
The feet add flavor and consistency similar to the way that chicken bones do.
As to the manky stuff, before you add the feet to your soup/stock, prepare them in this way:
1. Wash and rinse them well.
2. Put them in cold water to cover well, and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes. Then drain and allow to cool.
3. Peel off the outer scaly skin, and pop off the claw cases. This sounds weird but it will be obvious what comes off and what stays on. Also the feet will be all bunched up like a fist from the boiling water, another wacky product of their intact mechanism.
Now, they may have already been prepared to this extent. I've never bought chicken feet at a store, so I don't know if there is a standard process. If you're not sure, I would go ahead and parboil them, and drain them; similar to the way you'd prepare bacon before adding it to a stew. You'll be able to tell if there is anything that needs to come off.
Speaking of chickens, we got our first eggs of the season yesterday! woo hoo! Nothing like backyard eggs.
If you want to boost your chicken stock to a new level, chicken wing tips are probably a more practical addition. Buy five lbs. or so of chicken wings, separate the wing tips and save them for when you make stock then use the rest for tasty snacks. The wing tips need no special cleaning and since, around here anyway, chicken wings are usually cheaper than chicken feet, it's a real savings.
When we were selling lots of fresh butchered wings at our restaurant, we'd save those tips and freeze them. When we got a sufficient number of them, we'd literally make chicken soup and chicken broth out of them. They were so rich in flavor that we rarely had to put any chicken in the mix!
Nobody in my family, starting with my grandmother, would have dreamed of making chicken stock without the feet. They add color and richness, making it more "chickeny". They're harder to find these days, but if you're in an area with a reasonable sized Asian population, Chinese markets almost always carry them. They're no dirtier than any other meat - I just rinse them and throw them in with other bones and parts.