Embracing the strange

by Ben on September 26, 2010 · 65 comments

in Chinese, Index, Offal, Poultry

Around the holidays, our lab conducts an annual outing for dim sum.Β  It’s an event I always look forward to, and one of the rare cases when we can reliably tear everyone away from the bench for a few hours. There are about 20 of us, however, so we usually can’t fit at one table. Upon arrival, the group chaotically organizes into two subgroups based on a number of criteria: Who wants to sit next to the boss? Who doesn’t want to be anywhere near the boss? Who can’t be separated from their BFF?, etc. Weeks before our first outing, my rotation advisor attempted to generate table assignments based the more rational criterion of what people wanted to order and eat. Dim sum is served family style, and best enjoyed with a like-minded group of eaters. I have to give Brian credit for devising a one-question diagnostic that fairly and accurately assesses the likelihood that a diner will be on board with the ordering habits of her responding cohort: Do you eat chicken feet?

For those who have not yet had the pleasure of indulging in dim sum, let me explain the ordering procedure.

(Customs vary, but most large dim sum houses in the city run this way.) A waiter comes by and takes, typically, a single order from the table. A representative from the table fills out the paper form, which is then checked off or stamped as the staff delivers each dish. It is very important to get that order right, since a busy restaurant can’t efficiently fulfill follow-up orders on the fly. In the meantime, servers are bringing around carts of dishes that the table may add to the order. You normally don’t want those for two reasons: First, you’ve presumably optimized your paper order. Second, the restaurant knows that turnover from the carts is unpredictable. Therefore, they only send out dishes that can tolerate sitting around a while, i.e. none of the prime dishes or perennial favorites like har gau (shrimp dumpings) or the sublime tang bao (soup-filled dumplings).

So the recipe for success at dim sum is:

  1. Have at least one person at the table (preferably one who speaks Cantonese) who knows how to order.
  2. Populate the table with people who eat what you eat, and know not to accept most orders from the cart.

I’ve had my fair share of bad dim sum experiences. On a number of occasions, I’ve been at a table so perplexed by the myriad dishes on the menu that we ultimately found ourselves with a motley collection of redundant, filling, mediocre items. So I knew very well the importance of above strategy to the overall dim sum experience. This time, I was determined to get seated at the correct table. That would be the chicken feet table.

I had never had chicken feet in my life. They are not comely. In fact, they look a bit like goblin hands. But this was one of the best dim sum restaurants in the Bay Area, and I didn’t want my non-chicken-feet-eating ways to stand in the way of the best possible dim sum experience the restaurant had to offer. So I said, Yeah, I eat chicken feet.

The verdict? Immediately one of my all-time favorites, and one that I’ve wanted to reproduce at home for some time. Savory, with a mild kiss of heat, chicken feet prepared in this way have a profound richness derived from a high content of slow-cooked cartilage and tendon—elements that contribute the vast majority of texture, flavor and body to a stock or consommΓ©. The closest comparison I can make is to the middle joint of a chicken wing. Tender, gelatinous, with lots of skin. But in the case of chicken feet, not as much of the meat itself.

If you’re the type of person who gets a little skeeved out by the middle joint of a chicken wing, perhaps the feet are not where you want to start. On the other hand, if you have never had chicken feet and are open to trying them, I suggest you get yourself to a chicken feetery post haste. Or, make them yourself. The recipe is straightforward and satisfying. Note: this is the first Chinese dish I have ever cooked, and it is a bang-on version of the dim sum classic.

* * * * *

Phoenix talons (chicken feet in black bean sauce)
very slightly adapted from My Several Worlds

1 lb chicken feet
1-2 qts neutral cooking oil
2 qts water
1 oz fresh ginger
2 pieces star anise
2 oz cilantro root*
2 ounces maltose sugar*

the marinade
2 T oyster sauce
1 T sugar
2 T soy sauce
1 T rice wine or cooking sake
1 jalapeno, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp white pepper*
1 T fermented black bean sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil

*Cilantro can be found on the root in Thai markets. More easily, stems may be substituted.
*Maltose sugar comes in either syrup or powder form, and can be found in some Asian markets. Eden foods makes a barley malt syrup, which is 76% maltose. Alternatively, 1/4 C of white sugar may be substituted.
*White pepper is traditional in Chinese cuisine. However, many find its aroma to be objectionable. Black pepper may be substituted here with little consequence.

Wash chicken feet thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. Cut off nails with kitchen shears and discard. Coat feet with sugar and deep-fry at 350F until golden brown (5 – 7 mins).

Boil water and add ginger, star anise and cilantro root. Add chicken feet and simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours until tender. Drain.

Combine ingredients for the marinade and gently toss with chicken feet. When the mixture has cooled, cover and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours.

Before serving, steam feet and marinade in a small bowl for 15 minutes. Garnish with sliced scallions or toasted sesame seeds, if desired. Serve hot, with a side of white rice.

* * * * *

And now, some blatant pandering to my beloved Foodbuzz editors (see right) …


Chicken feet: They’re not just for dim sum anymore…

“Top 9” me?

What did you think I would make—a cupcake?

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65 comments… read them below or add one

Jenni September 26, 2010 at 12:23 pm

I’ve never wanted to eat straight-up chicken feet, but I dream of making stock with some–unctuous, gelatin-y goodness. My lips smack. Perhaps I do eat chicken feet, after all!


Ben September 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm

You should try them, Jenni! If the spent feet are tender after the stock is done, try marinating directly…


Liren September 26, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Ah, this is definitely outside my comfort zone! I’ve had chicken feet before and it wasn’t my favorite, but you know what? I will definitely try it again, and THIS actually looks very tasty!

Excellent job tackling Challenge 2!!! I’m very impressed πŸ™‚


Ben September 26, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Thanks, Liren! I had to say something based on your Foodbuzz questionnaire. πŸ™‚ But I’m glad to hear that this didn’t disturb you *too* much!


Brian September 26, 2010 at 12:32 pm

OK, you got me. I’m definitely voting for this one.


Ben September 26, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Sorry the tables didn’t work out like you planned, Brian.


Jean September 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Completely unexpected and very impressive. I didn’t expect chicken feet to appear in any posts but you, of course, upped the ante. Talk about “outside your comfort zone”. Truthfully, I like chicken feet–well the sauce it’s cooked in does it for me. A college friend had me try it once and I liked it immediately.

What a great post. Definitely worth waiting for. You’ve got this challenge in the bag! πŸ™‚


Ben September 26, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Thanks, Jean! Re: upping the ante. The only words one needs to know at a poker table are “fold” and “raise!”


The Cilantropist September 26, 2010 at 12:45 pm

This is my ‘cringe-inducing’ food! But I still love that you tackled it, and am impressed that you somehow made it look pretty with those chocolate goodies, lol. πŸ˜‰ I also love that you used the word ‘skeeved’ in your post, I used the same word in mine!


Ben September 26, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Thank you for reading, Amanda, despite your “skeeved outedness.” πŸ™‚ Looking forward to reading yours. Title alone makes me hungry!


Liz September 26, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Now THAT is adventurous!


Ben September 26, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Thanks. Yours looks fantastic!


Daily Spud September 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Nice one Ben – now that’s what I call a chicken feat! You went way out of my comfort zone too πŸ™‚


Ben September 26, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Thanks for reading, Aoife. Eating it is not out of my comfort zone, but cooking it was another story!


Baking Barrister September 26, 2010 at 4:28 pm

See, I like to eat at the table with chicken feet, but I probably won’t eat the chicken feet. It’s more of a visual thing for me. I’m going to take your word on their amazing. I will also applaud your bravery in trying these at home and your clever pairing with desserts. Seriously, what’s better than chicken feet & chocolate for a master foodie? And nice pandering πŸ˜‰


Ben September 26, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Thanks, just hoping hey have a sense of humor about it!


maybelles mom September 26, 2010 at 4:52 pm

i actually think the uncooked ones are attractive in a sculptural way. And, I do enjoy chicken feet, though when warm. great job. whats up next? (you will make it through for sure.)


Ben September 26, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Thanks, MaBelle. I am hopelessly full from our Challenge #3 dinner party last night. It will certainly be more accessible than fung zaau, but I can’t resist including a bit of offal. The theme is French Colonial.


Amy K. September 26, 2010 at 5:26 pm

maybe i’d try one. just one.

excellent post! looking forward to the next one!


Ben September 26, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Thanks, Amy. I bet you can’t eat just one!


Serene September 26, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Most dim sum houses I’ve been to, there are carts going around the room, and no one orders on a slip, though a couple I’ve been to have worked that way. The first time I had chicken feet, it was at a dim sum place, and it was delicious, but the texture was very odd to me. Nowadays, I put a pound of chicken feet into every pot of chicken stock. It really enhances the stock.


Ben September 26, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Yup, I’ve been to that kind too. I prefer the paper list, because I’m not as adept at body-checking the waiter when the har gau comes out. Good call on the stock!


The Duo Dishes September 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Oooh, crunchy toes! You went all out with a bang for this challenge. We’re not as brave, so this might be one that will take a while for us to work our nerve up for. Love it!


Ben September 26, 2010 at 10:30 pm

I will definitely not go out with a whimper, but of course I am hoping to stay in! πŸ˜‰ Thanks for reading. Totally worth it to work up the nerve for this!


Jun Belen September 27, 2010 at 8:33 am

Pheonix talons? Now that’s a classic! The only way I like to chicken feet is the way the Chinese make them – braised in rich salty sauce. Amazing photographs!



Ben September 27, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Thank you! That’s high praise coming from someone who does it for a living. πŸ™‚ So many posts to read, really looking forward to yours!


Stephanie M September 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

Awesome — love dim sum, love chicken feet and other assorted animal parts (I am half-Chinese, after all!), and love that you chose this for challenge #2. Definitely sets you apart! Just voted for you. Good luck!


Ben September 27, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Thanks, Stephanie!


Sharon (umommy) September 27, 2010 at 10:36 am

you had me at “wash chicken feet… cut off nails with kitchen shears.” you got my vote!


Ben September 27, 2010 at 12:12 pm

It’s been said before, but your handle is too awesome. And thank you!


@lickmyspoon September 27, 2010 at 10:36 am

Koi Palace is great! The last time I went there I tried their coffee glazed ribs, which were both authentic and disgusting (or inauthentic and delicious, depending on whether or not I’m spewing sarcasm). You did a great job of describing the dim sum experience.

This post is an absolute riot. If I wasn’t in a sturdy chair I’d probably be laughing on the floor, perhaps rolling around at the same time. I wish there was some acronym to describe that process…

Anyways, I’m voting for you.

Lick My Spoon


Ben September 27, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Love it! Thank you!


Foodie in Berlin September 27, 2010 at 11:31 am

Excellent, excellent, excellent! Love the chicken feet with the chocolates! Ha! Not sure this is a recipe I will ever try at home but they certainly look tasty!


Ben September 27, 2010 at 12:15 pm

How about stuffed in sausages? With, like, a claw sticking out of the casing? πŸ™‚


angi September 27, 2010 at 12:41 pm

YES! Excellent post and regarding that dimsum trip – sorry our seating pact didn’t end up working out. Next time, we gotta strategize carpooling assignments too, so I know I’ll end up with chicken-feet-eaters and more importantly, random-fried-stuff-on-cart-rejecters. Note: Chinese people do not eat small plates of normal entrees e.g. walnut prawns during dimsum.

Of course you have my vote Ben – you knocked this one out of the park! You know, people should start making dessert platters with fung zaau (ι³³ηˆͺ) – I know I’ll always reach for that instead of cupcakes.


Ben September 27, 2010 at 12:50 pm

“God is not watching.”


Stephanie Tramontozzi September 27, 2010 at 3:16 pm

I never have been able to work up the courage to eat chicken feet, let alone make them but I am up for trying now. I will let you know if mine turn out anywhere near as good as those look.


Ben September 27, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Haha that’s great, Steph! You could also go the lazy way and order them @ Hop Kee. πŸ™‚


eataduckimust September 27, 2010 at 3:18 pm

like i said, giving you some major points for making this and my vote πŸ™‚


Ben September 27, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Thanks. Readmoreofyouimust!


Joan Nova September 27, 2010 at 7:35 pm

I can’t say I’m printing this recipe but I admire your entry (and courage). You’ve got one of my votes.


Ben September 27, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Thank you, Joan. I knew that chicken feet weren’t for everyone, and I’m glad that it didn’t scare you off from reading. πŸ™‚


Jackie September 28, 2010 at 1:03 am

I LOVE CHICKEN FEET! But then I am the girl who will eat everything. Seriously. Put it on my plate, I’ll eat it. I absolutely love that you made these, especially not being a chicken-foot eater! Good job, buddy. I am a proud Asian girl πŸ˜‰

Good luck in the competition! You’ve got my vote!

Jax x


Ben September 28, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Thanks, Jaxie! Sounds like u would have enjoyed my live balut tweets!


Daydreamer Desserts September 28, 2010 at 5:49 am

Totally out of *my comfort zone* for sure! You’ve got my vote!


Ben September 28, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Thanks, Josie!


Amelia from Z Tasty Life September 28, 2010 at 5:55 am

wow: extremely adventurous. Voted. Good luck!

(See my entry here: http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/2/view/869)


Ben September 28, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Thank you, Amelia. Interested to read yours!


Lauren Zabaneh September 28, 2010 at 11:33 am

This brought back a memory from high school: There was a girl, who was thought of as somewhat strange, and she brought a chicken foot to eat at lunch time. Oh, how they crucified this poor girl. She heated it up in the microwave and just started nibbling on it. Being a bunch of midwestern kids, we totally didn’t get it. I felt bad for her. (not because she was eating a chicken foot, but for how cruel kids are.)

Anyway, I would have to say, I would definitely try your chicken feet. I like that sticky, gelatinous-ness from chicken bones and cartilage. With that sweet heat, oh, yum!

I think you did a great job playing out the “dim-sum lowdown” for us. I would never know what to do. And I think it’s great you said you were a chicken foot eater, even though you had never had one. Adventurous!

got my vote!


Ben September 28, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Wow! Chicken feet for school lunch sounds like both a luxury and a curse… One of my labmates brought me back a chicken foot that he got from a vending machine in Japan. It was wrapped in mylar and preserved at room temp. It was not as good as my chicken feet.

Cheers, Lauren. Loved your liver shot!


Renate Valencia September 28, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Excellent post! I love these chicken feet and have them at out dimsum house here
at Pacific East Mall in El Cerrito. Kudos for making them at home!!! How could I not vote for chicken feet??


Ben September 28, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Thanks for reading and voting, Renate! Will have to check out that place next time I’m in the East bay.


Fiona at Life on Nanchang Lu September 29, 2010 at 6:08 am

HA Ha ha great entry! Voted for you!

After 13 months of living in China they are still about the only food I haven’t got the guts to eat. And lord knows I’m happy to eat just about anything – bullfrog, duck tongues, fish cheeks, chicken stomachs and jellyfish salad. What is it about them that is so polarising??

Your entry has convinced me that ‘no guts, no glory’ – I’m ordering them tonight. Wish me luck!


Ben September 29, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Awesome. I think if you’re eating duck tongue, this is not a huge stretch. Thanks for your vote!


Kath September 29, 2010 at 7:23 am

How can I not vote for chicken feet? Even though, for me personally, they get my “EEEEWWWW” going. Yours look like they are as good as they can get! πŸ˜‰


Jen@Twenty-Something and Starving September 29, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Seriously. This is flippin’ awesome. I thought I was ballsy with my entry on Ghanaian food. Nope. Chicken feet. Seriously? You win this round. *voted* Good luck next round!

P.S. love love love your title. i chuckle everytime i see it. heh. see, i did it again.


Jeanne September 29, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Interesting…I haven’t decided whether I would try these or not. It’s definitely the perfect dish for this challenge, and you’ve earned my vote!


Ben September 29, 2010 at 4:55 pm

@Kath Indeed; how can you not? πŸ™‚

@Jen Oh, thank you! Ghanian food sounds great—Will have to check out your post!

@Jeanne They’re good; I swear! Would love to see someone bake it up. Maybe a good secret ingredient for Challenge 8?


Food o' del Mundo September 29, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Ah the memories you’ve given me of the first wedding I went to in the Peace Corps. you’ve got my vote. Hope we both make it to the next round!


Ben September 29, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Thanks—Lovin’ the roti, as well!


Sweet Swallows September 30, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Love dim sum, but not chicken feet. Even though I probably wouldn’t be sitting at your table, you’ve got my vote just the same!


Ben September 30, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Thank you, Colleen!


Ed September 30, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Excellent work!


Ben September 30, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Thanks—Big fan of your site, Ed!


Monica April 18, 2013 at 10:37 am

I really want to try these after watching an exotic food show where a guy ate them and said they were really good. They look incredibly appetizing to me and I know a place here that serves very authentic dim sum. Problem is my roommate is weirded out by the idea yet he LOVES food I think it’s just how they look. Is there a good way to convince him to try. I eventually will with or with out him but he’s treating me to that place regularly now, we love it, they have so much authentic Asian cuisine, and I wish I could get him to be more adventurous. Any advice?


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