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Chicken feet at a Chinese restaurant -- I don't get it

I'd never gotten up the nerve to try chicken feet at a Chinese restaurant until recently, when I found some on a weekend Chinese buffet at a place in Woburn, MA. Got one to try, and couldn't get anything edible off it -- it seemed to be all rubbery and tough skin surrounding a little bit of bone. I couldn't even bite into it -- seemed like trying to tear a hunk off a tire or something.

Were these badly prepared, or did I just not get it here? Comments and assistance welcome.

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  1. BBQ chicken feet in the Philippines and chicken feet in the Andes are boiled until the meaty bits are tender. The filipino version is then BBQed, resulting in a few bites worth of flavor. Feet in soups in Bolivia were likewise flavorful but, again, not all that meaty. Most of the meat comes from the lobes around each toe. And if you get bored, find the tendon at the elbow and pull: you can make the toes move up and down, open and close.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      Had chicken feet at dim sum at Kam Fung decades ago in Montreal. Soft and gelatinous and lightly seasoned (I think hoisin was the main seasoning). Luckliy my girlfriend had a good sense of humour when I pinched a foot between my thumb and forefinger and held it aloft, intoning, "ET go home." Sometimes it pays to play with your food.

      1. re: mrbozo

        I hold 'em in my chopsticks and intone "It's the CRAW, not the Craw"

        And bachslunch, done properly they are sublime...all gelatinous and tender... Spitting the bones out is a bit of an art, but 1/2 the fun, too.

      2. re: Sam Fujisaka

        haha sam. You crack me up.

        I've seen them so many times pass by on the cart but could never get the nerve. Interesting also are the duck feet! Reminds me of an old Dr. S. book..."I wish that I had duck feet...and I can tell you why" I have spent time stealing a few glances here at there at the people eating those chicken feet. A whole lot of sucking going on..it seems to me. Reminds me of The Griswold family Christmas dinner when the turkey collapses when they try and carve it.

      3. Most dim sum places in the LA area have two different chicken-foot preparations, one just boiled and served cold, one cooked in a sauce (the kind mrbozo had) and served hot. The cold ones leave me cold, frankly, but the warm ones are very chickeny-tasting, and although a bit of work to eat I enjoy the gelatinous flesh. I don't get them all the time, but once in a while I'll have two or three.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Will Owen

          At a dim sum place yesterday, the Chinese couple at the next table had a platter piled high with battered deep-fried objects that could only be chicken feet.

          1. re: Sharuf

            Never have I seen deep fried chicken feet??? Could it have been something else? Feet is not usually deep fried.

        2. As an avid dim sum eater, I tried this once when out with a friends Chinese family for Dim Sum in Queens. I found the texture very off putting, and could not understand the fighting between my friend and her sister about who got to eat mine.

          A few weeks ago, we shared dim sum with a random woman and her daughter who happened to be at our table, and I tried them again, and loved them. I'm thinking the difference must have been the preperation, though it did take some bravery to get over the texture.

          Also, as I understand it, you don't really bite, you sort of suck on it, and on the ones I liked, the meaty parts (not much) came off, then you just suck the flavor off the rest...

          but that's just my white girl version of things...

          1. All the good chicken feet I've had, both in California and Hong Kong, were very tender. In fact, the skin was bordering on mushy. Like Will Owen, I only like the warm ones with the sauce, but it's a matter of opinion. My parents and grandparents will eat the cold too.

            As for how to eat them, the most common technique I've seen is to break off the bones into your mouth and suck off all the skin and meat. Then spit out the bones, which should be completely devoid of any meat.

            1. It's an acquire taste for sure.

              Sort of like pig's feet.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Mmmm, sult (Estonian headcheese)!

              2. My 2nd generation Russian/Jewish mother used to add chicken feet (tziken fees as my grandmother called them) to chicken soup when she could get them. They were stewed till soft, with the rest of the chicken. The soup was more gelatinous, and the feet were more about soft skin than meat. I loved them!

                5 Replies
                1. re: amymsmom

                  I like chicken feet done that way too. It's all skin and gelatin(y) tendons.

                  1. re: amymsmom

                    My Jewish bubby used to make tomato-based fricassee, containing meatballs, fisselach, gorglach (chicken necks) and pupiks (chicken stomachs). Delicious! As bmubyzal mentions above, just suck on the toes and bones and spit them out bare.

                    I use feet and lots of wings, along with whole chicken parts, when making a big pot of chicken soup.

                    1. re: edibleTO

                      UUUm. I think my mother would cry if I showed her this. It sounds like something my grandmother made - I still like pupik and neck in soup.

                      Do you go to a special store for the feet? I only found them once in a regular grocery store, when I lived in an area with lots of West Indians and Central Americans. I live in a more upscale are now - haven't seen feet since.

                      1. re: amymsmom

                        I buy them at a kosher butchershop, but I've seen them at Asian markets, as well.

                    2. re: amymsmom

                      Your mum was so right. I'm Hungarian descent. My Grandmother always had a few dual purpose chickens - but only ones with yellow feet! She held that they gave her soup a yellow colour. Two feet, four kids at the table: being the youngest, I always scored at Sunday dinner.

                    3. They were probably prepared badly. Phoenix Claws (aka chicken feet) is something I get every time I go for dim sum. In its warm, dim sum form, it's usually a deep red with some black beans and peppers. I mainly eat it for its flavor, although some people like the gelatinous nature of the cartilage and ligaments. I've never been fond of the cold, white version though.

                      If you had the warm version, it probably wasn't cooked long enough. The other possibility is that you were eating some super-chicken with bullet-proof skin.

                      1. I'll agree with those posters who've had the hot Chinese version. I've had them in Asia as well as here and they are all about the flavor and the gelatinous texture you get from what you can scrape/bite/suck off the feet. I'm usually the only one who'll eat them if I'm having Dim Sum with family.

                        1. I tried 'em once, and had the same impression: why?

                          2 Replies
                            1. re: katkoupai

                              Pointed to them on the dim sum cart once, by mistake, at 3 Treasures in Chicago. They were deep fried and in some sort of barbeque sauce, so they looked pretty good, couldn't really see the shape under the sauce. After one bite we all figured out what they were and also that we had no interest in eating them! I guess the waitstaff gets a good laugh at the ignorant tourists who probably do this fairly frequently.

                          1. Just had them for the first time last week at dim sum. Seemed to me to be pretty much a sauce delivery device. I didn't love the mildly flabby nature of the skin, but they didn't taste bad. After I got over the wierdness about trying them at all, I found them unobjectionable, but not so tasty that I'd rather have chicken feet than, say, an extra order of lobster dumplings.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: litchick

                              Mom used to make sweet and sour chicken feet and used that same sauce for meatballs. It was delicious. BTW Mom is a Texan with Russian family roots who married a Hungarian. I don't know where she got the recipe. It had to have been from family.

                            2. Your description of the chicken feet you ate does not sound too appetizing and it is possible that the chicken feet dish was sitting around too long in the steamer tray or not well prepared. Good chicken feet fresh out of the steamer should be tender with a slight rough texture and flavored with the typical red pepper and black bean marinade sauce. Normally, the chicken feet is deep fried first, than boiled until tender, and than marinated with the black bean and hot pepper sauce, and finally steamed hot and served to the customer. Eating chicken feet is just a matter of enjoying the texture and mouth feel of the skin.

                              In the Chinese culture, there is a great emphasis on texture in their foods and with the corresponding frugality of the Chinese culture in not wasting anything, resulting in the famous saying that the Chinese eat everything that moves and does not move, hence the great interest in eating Shark’s Fin soup, Chicken feet, Sea Cucumber, and all the other foods with a myriad of different textures from gelatinous, crispy, crunchy, hard, soft, crumply, and tender that provide a different mouth feel when eaten.

                              For non-Asians who may not have the same interest in food textures as the Chinese, one can easily learn to enjoy textures as the Chinese do, since in the discussions of the best hotdogs, non-Asians already appear to enjoy aspects of textures in foods, since there is much discussion of “snap” from the sheep intestine casing (or other animal intestine casing) versus the skinless hotdogs without “snap.” And it is possible that there could be also psychological issues in eating foods that one is not accustomed to eating. This would essentially be mind over matter, but since you have already tried it once, you might want to try chicken feet again and hopefully this time, the chicken feet is better prepared and you might actually like it, or at the least, not be put off as you were the first time you tried chicken feet.

                              And if you end up not liking chicken feet, that’s allright also. According to one Internet site, one of the exports of America to China is chicken feet!

                              Below is a picture of Chicken Feet Dim Sum and a Youtube video of a non-Asian person eating Chicken Feet:

                              a. Picture of Chicken Feet: http://images1.filecloud.com/522679/C...

                              b. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGcGCu...

                              1. Ahhh, chicken feet. lwong is right, enjoyment of chicken feet is all about the texture, and the fact that it is a delivery system for the sauce. For years, I ate it, mostly because there were always several platters sitting on the dim sum table. But then I grew up, and realized that life is too short to fill up valuable stomach space on chicken feet when there is curried cuttlefish to be had. I think that I used to like it because it was fun to spit out the bones into a pile on my plate.....
                                Your experience definately sounds like badly prepared chickens feet. But be forewarned, a well prepared dish of chickens feet isn't exactly going to knock your socks off.

                                1. I would say badly prepared!! Chicken feet if done correctly are wonderfully succulent, rich, and flavorful. It should not be rubbery or tough and there should be a good bit of soft/tender tendon surrounding the bone. If you ever find yourself on the west coast, you should try a place in San Francisco on 41st avenue in the outer Richmond. It's this hole in the wall dim sum place with amazingly authentic Chinese food. I highly recommend the Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: vchen87

                                    Never eaten chicken feet.But my german grandmother would use them in making soup.I also recall daddy saying that grandma would render sometimes chicken or goose fat and use that to make cookies and such with,mainly at Christmas time.
                                    She also made something called grieben schmaltz that was rendered bacon fat with onions or whatever and you used it as a spread on bread.
                                    Any germans or jews here may know what I'm talking about.

                                  2. well, considering you got it from a buffet - i imagine they were probably sitting out for a while and werent at their peak...

                                    used to be like you - kind of wary of trying it, because hey, it IS chicken FEET, but an ex of mine somehow got me to try it at a great chinese restaurant we went to, and it actually was quite good. i'm thinking the ones you had were just badly prepared....

                                    try again at a better place, i'm sure you'll like it better.....

                                    1. I'm with you -- I don't like to eat it on its own. But I love the broth that comes with it when I go to a dim sum place. When I make chicken broth, I always put chicken feet in. It adds so much depth.

                                      1. One time some friends and I went out for dim sum and ordered all of the things we'd never ordered before, including various bits of offal and feets. No one was afraid to try anything but none of us cared for the feet, which were a hot not cold preparation. I just didn't care for the texture and decided there is too much else out there I'd rather eat than feets, or the tripe for that matter. I've enjoyed all other parts of the bird, including stomach, testicles, liver, heart, and skin, but the feets can keep on walkin.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Ellen

                                          Strange I've always ordered tripe and feet each time I go for dimsum. I have never ordered stomach, testicles, lever, or hearts lol... and im chinese. I guess when it all comes down to it, its individual preferences.

                                          1. re: x524x

                                            i thought tripe was stomach....???

                                        2. Dude you went to a buffet! There is never authentic about any buffets!!!!! If you really want to try chicken fee you have to go to a real chinese resturant preferablly a dim sum resturant. When done right it isn't at all rough nor is it rubbery. Give the real stuff a try, im certain you'll love it.

                                          1. Your problem is of course, getting it at a Chinese buffet. Next time try a real dim sum restaurant.

                                            1. My first inclination is that they were bad because you had them from a buffet.

                                              Chicken feets (and Duck webs) are mainly skin, tendon and bones. Properly cooked chicken feet, the skin should be soft and melt in your mouth with have a slight gelatinous mouth-feel. The chicken feet also absorb the flavors of the braising liquid.

                                              The off-putting part for most people is the texture. Many people are not use to the soft, gelatinous skin with mystery bits of gristle and meat (?) that it grosses people out.