Would you eat chicken’s feet? If you did partake, you’d be one of millions of people who consume chicken’s feet dishes as part of their diet. Although these avian extremities are most famously eaten in Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian chicken recipes, they’re not exclusive to Asia – they’re also prevalent in Eastern Europe, the American South, Jamaica, Peru, Mexico, South Africa and the Middle East.
Aside from the small bones that are usually – but not always – picked out before eating, chicken’s feet are edible tidbits. There are no sinewy muscles, just tendons, collagen and skin, which gives them a gelatinous quality. They’re rich in texture but – unlike a meaty thigh – lacking in taste, so a strong sauce is usually served alongside to compensate. It’s this texture that makes chicken’s feet such a distinct and – some would say – acquired delicacy. Depending on how they’re cooked, they can be pleasantly crunchy, so soft they melt in your mouth, jaw-achingly chewy, or wincingly slimy.
Chicken’s feet recipes are universal: in the Philippines, they are sometimes amusingly known as ‘adidas’, after the famous German shoe brand. Here, they are cooked with oyster sauce and black beans and served as street food.
In South African townships, they’re called ‘walkie talkies’ or ‘runaways’; in Jamaica there’s ‘chicken foot soup’; in Trinidad they’re the hero of the well-liked ‘chicken foot souse’ party dish; and in Mexico they’re steamed and served with rice or spicy mole sauce.
Chicken’s feet are most memorably known for their recurring presence in Chinese dishes. The Asian habit for chewing them and spitting out the bones has been coined as a culinary equivalent of chewing gum.
These morsels are a supermarket staple; they’re a bar snack; they’re in soups or eaten as an appetizer or in main courses. Chicken’s feet are an integral ingredient in the cuisine of the world’s most populous country – such is the demand that even the US imports vast amounts to China.
If you’d like to utilise chicken’s feet, but want to get used to the look and feel of them first, make a stock out of them – they turn a good stock into a great one. To the uninitiated, it’s easy to balk at the thought of eating chicken's feet, but their use evolved out of an economic necessity to not waste any edible part of an animal. Perhaps, then, in these nose-to-tail-eating times the question shouldn't be: “Would you eat chicken’s feet?” but: ”Why aren’t you eating them?”