When Susan Underwood of October Rose Farms gifted me a bag of chicken feet at the farmer’s market on Saturday I wondered what I could possibly have done to offend her. The feet of chickens? Did she really dislike me so much? “Trust me,” she said, “these make the most delicious broth. Google it if you don’t believe me.”
I took a deep breath. I accepted her gift. And I Googled the heck out of it.
Chicken feet, I’ve learned, have an ironic presence in our world: they are regarded as a delicacy in some parts, discarded offal in others, and serve as a standard, everyday ingredient in too many ethnic culinary circles to count. The American food culture, me included, seems to have forgotten our long-standing relationship with the lowly chicken foot. Pre-WWII Americans were probably unaware of the unique micronutrients found only in that part of the bird but clearly understood that the collagen, gelatin and high flavor profile made this an essential ingredient for every-day cooking.
In “the olden days” chicken feet were the standard thickener and flavor enhancer of American soups, stews, and gravies; just after the Second World War the food industry figured out how to hydrolyze proteins to a base containing free glutamic acids, and MSG was born. With the resulting explosion of the convenience-food industry along with the disappearance of back-yard chickens, chicken feet as a matter of daily life were forgotten. Americans began gorging on hotdogs and pre-packaged chicken patties made from chemical infused this-and-that pieces-parts and turned our noses up at the very idea of cooking with something so gruesome.
The stock we made from October Rose Farms’ chicken feet was rich in body and flavor, worlds better by far than any store-bought product, mercy yes, and superior even to our carcass and vegetable stock-making method which, until now, has been our gold standard.
This week we learned to connect with a culinary tradition that goes back hundreds of years: utilizing all the parts of the animal,
evenespecially the highly nutritious and flavorful feet.
CHICKEN FEET STOCK
2 pounds of chicken feet
1 bay leaf
Vegetables: Tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, etc: use the vegetables you have on hand, course chopped and thrown into a large stockpot.
Water (enough to cover all ingredients in the pot)
1) Rinse the chicken feet under running water to wash away any surface debris.
2) Scald the chicken feet for 15-20 seconds in a pot of salted boiling water, then immediately quench in a bowl of ice water to cool.
3) Peel the yellow membrane entirely from each foot.
4) Chop off the tops of the claws at the first knuckle using a sharp knife.
5) Place the feet in a large stockpot and add vegetables and herbs as desired. We used: tomatoes, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, bay leaf and thyme
6) Cover stockpot contents completely with water.
7) Bring to a boil, then reduce to a very low simmer.
8) Simmer for at least 4 hours.
9) Allow liquid to cool completely, then strain.
10) Freeze or can. Yield: approximately 1.5 gallons.