Try this quick and easy method to make dim sum style chicken feet. This home-style recipe offers the same flavour and tenderness with less time and effort.
A classic dim sum dish
Like Har Gow, Cheung Fun and Char Siu Bao, chicken feet are a classic dish found in all authentic Cantonese dim sum restaurants. You may find it strange, but it’s a go-to delicacy for many Chinese diners, myself included.
The Chinese name of this dish Chi Zhi Feng Zhao/豉汁凤爪 literally means fermented black bean sauce phoenix claws (a romanticised term for chicken feet). It’s loved for the umami-rich, complex flavours and pleasantly gelatinous texture.
Why try this recipe
The traditional way of making dim sum chicken feet can be quite complex. This recipe, however, uses alternative techniques to make the cooking process less laborious and time-consuming.
- No deep-frying. This recipe include two options: air fry the chicken feet or just skip the pre-cooking step altogether. This simplifies the process while also allowing you to make the dish less greasy.
- No steaming. This recipe uses the braising method instead which requires less cooking time. It also allows you to cook a big batch if you plan to freeze some for later consumption.
Facts on chicken feet
Before talking about the cooking steps, let me first explain some facts about chicken feet which may interest you.
They are a common and well-loved ingredient in many Asian cuisines. Consisting of soft bones, cartilage, tendons and skin, chicken feet have a high level of calcium and collagen content, a type of protein that’s believed to help make our skin and hair healthy.
Apart from today’s dish, chicken feet are great for making rich stock/bone broth, or aspic (aka meat jelly) used in the filling of soup dumplings.
What do chicken feet taste like?
Though this part of the chicken is not as meaty as the rest, they still somewhat taste like chicken. Texture-wise, the abundance of collagen gives them a gelatin-like texture when cooked.
You will enjoy a rich, almost luxurious mouthfeel in every bite which you don’t get from any other chicken cut. Also, the skin of the chicken feet is very good at soaking up the flavours of the seasonings and spices.
Where to purchase?
You would most probably find chicken feet in the frozen section of your local Chinese/Asian shops with the outer, yellowish tough skin already removed.
If this is not a feasible option, you can always reach out to your local butcher to save them for you. You will probably get them cheap because some outlets just throw them away.
How to clean chicken feet?
Before cooking, follow these steps to clean:
- Remove the outer yellow skin (skip this step if it’s already peeled off). Briefly dip the feet in boiling water then transfer to ice cold water. After that, you’ll be able to peel it off quite easily (You may find this chicken feet cleaning video helpful).
- Rinse and rub under tap water. Make sure to clean the pads of the feet and the area in between the toes.
- Chop off the nail part. Use kitchen scissors or a knife to do this.
Ingredients for this recipe
- Chicken feet. I use 500g (about 1.1 lb) in this recipe, which will give you about 14-16 feet.
- Aromatics. Garlic and ginger will give the braising liquid an aromatic base.
- Spices. A combination of star anise, bay leaves, and dried chilli pepper creates the perfect blend of warm, earthy, and fiery flavours. Chillies are optional but highly recommended as the subtle heat they provide really elevates the general taste.
- Fermented black beans. Known as Dou Chi (豆豉) in Chinese, they have quite a unique and complex flavour: aromatic, earthy, salty, and a little bittersweet. They are a typical ingredient in making dim sum style chicken feet. However, you can omit them if unavailable.
- Sauces. I use a blend of light, dark soy sauce and oyster sauce. They give the braising liquid a umami, savoury taste, as well as an appetising colour.
- Shaoxing rice wine. It helps to reduce the gamey taste and adds an aromatic flavour.
- Sugar. It adds a subtle taste of sweetness to the dish.
The cooking procedure
Step 1: Blanch
Once the chicken feet are cleaned and the nails trimmed, place them in a pot of water. Bring to a boil then leave to simmer for 5 minutes (skim off the grey foam appearing on the surface). Remove from heat and drain the feet thoroughly.
Step 2 (Optional): Air-fry and soak
Preheat your air fryer at 200°C/390°F. Coat the blanched chicken feet with oil (spray or rub with hands). Place them in the air fryer basket and set the timer to 10 minutes or until you see blisters forming on the skin. While frying, open the basket to flip and shake the feet a couple of times.
Once done, immerse the feet in a large bowl of cold water. Allow to soak in the refrigerator for 2 hours (or overnight). Then drain well.
🛎 NOTE: The air-frying and soaking process is an alternative to the traditional deep-frying and soaking method. This procedure softens the chicken feet’ skin and gives them a wrinkled look. It’s perfectly fine to skip this pre-cooking step altogether and simply prolong the braising time in the next step.
Step 3: Braise
Heat oil in a wok/pot. Add garlic, ginger, dried chilli, star anise, bay leaves and fermented black beans. Fry over low heat until the garlic turns lightly golden and fragrant.
Put in the chicken feet, then add oyster sauce, light and dark soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, and sugar. Pour in about 400ml (1¾ cups) of hot water.
Bring it to a boil then cover with a lid. Leave to simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or so until the chicken feet’ skin becomes tender.
Remove the lid and turn the heat to high to boil down the braising liquid. When the broth thickens, transfer to a plate and serve.
🛎 NOTE: If the chicken feet haven’t been air-fried, extend the braising time to 40 minutes. You can use an instant pot or a slow cooker for the braising step.
How to eat chicken feet
If you are new to eating chicken feet, here are a few tips you may find useful:
- Use chopsticks to firmly grasp the chicken feet. Hold them with the toes pointing towards you.
- Bite between the joints. Chew the skin off and suck the soft, collagen-rich tendons and cartilages. Then spit out the bones.
- Move on to the pads of the feet, and do the same until you finish it.
Serving and storage
Enjoy these freshly cooked chicken feet as an appetiser in a multi-course meal served with steamed rice. Or include it in a home-style dim sum brunch.
They also taste great at room temperature and I often find cold ones tastier as the flavour seems to intensify over time. So they make a wonderful snack (e.g. while watching TV with a cool beer!). In this situation, using your hands, instead of chopsticks, is more natural and practical.
Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for 2 months. Bring back to room temperature to serve or steam for a few minutes to reheat.
Chicken Feet, Dim Sum Style (豉汁凤爪)
- 500 g chicken feet, about 1.1 lb (14-16 feet)
- Neutral cooking oil, for air-frying (optional)
- ½ tablespoon neutral cooking oil
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 slices ginger
- 1 star anise
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 dried chilli pepper
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans, optional (see note 2)
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
- ½ teaspoon white sugar
- Chop off the nails of the chicken feet. Wash thoroughly. Put them into a pot and add plenty of tap water. Bring it to a full boil then leave to simmer for 5 minutes. Drain well.
Air-frying (optional, see note 2)
- Coat the drained feet with a thin layer of oil (spray over or rub with hands). Put into an air fryer preheated at 200°C/390°F. Leave to fry for about 10 minutes until the skin blisters (open the drawer to flip and shake the feet a couple of times during the process).
- Transfer the fried feet to a large bowl filled with cold water. Leave to soak in the fridge for about 2 hours. Then drain well.
- Add ½ tablespoon of oil to a wok/pot. Add garlic, ginger, star anise, bay leaves, dried chilli and fermented black beans (if using). Fry over low heat until the garlic turns lightly golden and fragrant (do not burn).
- Put in the chicken feet, along with oyster sauce, light and dark soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine and sugar. Pour in 400ml (1¾ cups) hot water. Bring to a boil then cover with a lid. Leave to simmer over low heat for 30 minutes until the skin becomes very tender (extend the time to 40 minutes if the feet haven’t been air-fried).
- Finally, turn the heat up to high. Cook uncovered to thicken the cooking liquid.
Serving and storing
- You may enjoy them warm or at room temperature. Store the leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 2 months.
- Bring back to room temperature to serve or steam to reheat.