Chicken feet may not sound as appetizing, but this dish is the signature and the most popular dim sum in Cantonese cuisine. You can literally say if a tea house restaurant doesn’t serve steamed chicken feet, it is not authentic. If you have never had it before, just get out of your comfort zone and give it a try. You will fall in love with it.
To Blanch & soak the Chicken Feet
- 1 lb of chicken feet
- 1.5 liters (6 cups) of water
- 60g (3 tbsp) of maltose
- Lemon juice from 1/2 of a lemon
- Lemon peel from one lemon
- 3 scallions, teared into stalks
- 1.5 inches of ginger, sliced thinly
- 2 star anise
- 1/4 cup of Chinese cooking wine
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 2 bay leaves
- 1.5 tbsp of red yeast powder, optional
- 1.5 tbsp of oil
- 1 tbsp of minced garlic,
- 1 tsp of ginger,
- 2 tsp of fermented black bean, roughly diced
- 1.5 tbsp of soy sauce,
- 1 tbsp of oyster sauce,
- 2 tsp of hoisin sauce
- 1.5 tsp of Chuhou paste
- 1 cup of peanut (pre-soak for 1 hour)
- diced scallions as garnish
- red chilies as garnish
Add the chicken feet, 1.5 liters of water, 1/4 cup of Chinese cooking wine, 3 scallions, ginger slices, 1 stick of cinnamon, 2 star anise, 2 bay leaves, lemon peel, lemon juice, and maltose to a big pot.
Turn the heat to high and bring it to a boil. Remove the chicken feet from the water and then onto a rack for about 10 minutes. The rest of the heatwill evaporate the excess moisture. Reserve the blanching liquid for soaking later.
The citrus aroma from the lemon peel helps to remove the unpleasant smell from the chicken feet.
The maltose will enhance the mallard reaction and give the chicken feet that desired golden brown color. If you don’t have it, feel free to use sugar. It does the same job. Some may think that maltose is less sweet compared to sugar so it will affect the taste. However, I have tested it, and to be honest, you can’t tell the difference at all because we after we remove the chicken feet from the broth, most of the sugar will be left behind.
Once the chicken feet cooled down to lukewarm, cut off the nails by using a pair of kitchen scissors. I like to do this step after the blanching, so I don’t risk cross-contamination. Some people may ask, chicken feet are basically just skin and bones. How is that going to taste good? Oh well, Cantonese people have a way. The skin on the feet is full of gelatin. It becomes porous once deep fried and soaked. Then we will steam it with a flavorful sauce until it falls off the bone tender.
Dry the chicken feet with paper towels. Depending on the frying method that you are going to use for the next step, you may need to dry the chicken feet furthermore by putting them in a dehydrator at 120 F for 2 hours or leaving them in the fridge uncovered overnight.
The next step is to fry the chicken feet until golden brown. There are 3 different methods, deep frying with oil, air frying in an air dryer, or you can roast the chicken feet in the oven. Let me briefly go through them so you can choose your preferred way.
Deep frying is traditional; if you choose this method, drying the chicken feet furthermore becomes a must-do step. Otherwise, the chicken feet will constantly release liquid while deep frying, and they like to stick to each other, which means you have to use tongs to separate them while the oil is splattering viciously. I once burned myself really bad. However, the advantage of deep frying is that you can get an even color, and you don’t need special equipment.
Air frying is the best method. You don’t need to spend an extra hour to dry the chicken feet. The air circulation helps to draw out the moisture, which gives you excellent results. Place the chicken feet in the air fryer and fry at 360 F for 18-25 minutes or until golden brown. You can pull out the basket a few times to check the color and adjust the position to make sure they are browned evenly.
That red-brown color is the result of maltose. Below is a comparison between maltose, sugar, and nothing. There is not much difference between maltose and sugar but the color is really light if you don’t add anything. You can use this technique to roast chicken or turkey for a perfect presentation.
Add the chicken feet back into the blanching liquid and soak for 1.5 hours. Optionally, I will add 1.5 tbsp of red yeast rice powder to enhance the vibrant red color even more. It doesn’t affect the taste at all. You can skip it or use food coloring.
While waiting, we can prepare the seasoning. Roughly dice the fermented black beans, then add them to the wok along with a drizzle of oil, 1 tbsp of minced garlic, and 1 tsp of ginger. Stir over medium-low heat until the aromatics are golden. Turn off the heat and add 1.5 tbsp of soy sauce, 1 tbsp of oyster sauce, 2 tsp of hoisin sauce, and 1.5 tsp of Chuhou paste. Mix thoroughly.
Once the chicken feet are done soaking, the skin should be wrinkly. This dish is also known as 虎皮凤爪 because the wrinkles look like the pattern on the tiger skin. Toss the chicken feet into the wok then gently mix with the sauce
I just realized I forgot to cut the chicken feet into manageable sizes. You should do this before mixing it with the sauce, so it is less messy. Transfer the chicken feet onto the plate. Optionally, I will put some peanuts under, which is something nice to eat besides the chicken feet. If you skip it, you have to use about 1/2 tbsp of less soy sauce to adjust the saltness. These are fresh peanuts, so they are wet and moist already. If you are using regular dry peanuts, you have to pre-soak them for 1 hour before steaming otherwise, they don’t get steamed through. If you don’t like peanuts, you can skip them or use taro sticks.
Bring the water to a boil, then steam the chicken feet over medium heat for 1.5 hours. For a long time steaming like this, make sure the pot is filled with enough water, so it doesn’t evaporate to dry.
Bulk recipe tip: chicken feet is freezer friendly. If you make a large batch, you can freeze it after the steaming. I like to use microwave-proof containers so I can just reheat it in the microwave without defrosting. Of course, you can reheat over the stove as well. The chicken feet will taste just as good as if they were freshly steamed. You can not tell they were frozen; that is how freezer friendly they are.