Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chicken Feet, or Dim Sum-style "Phoenix Claws"

I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm a terrible cook, but I definitely lack the balls to be a good one. My grandmothers on both sides are good cooks - they've got the burn scars to show for it. Due to my ineptitude, I've accumulated a few scars as well, but they were mostly from stupid, rookie mistakes like plunging something dripping wet into a wok of smoking oil *shivers*. My paternal grandmother recounted this horrible story of how she got her whole face splashed with hot oil in her youth after carelessly dropping something into the wok from a height. See a theme emerging? I hate hot oil. And, by extension, deep-frying. Which is why I'm so darn proud of myself for these Dim Sum-style "Phoenix Claws".

I'm delighted with the way they turned out. From the acquisition of ingredients (maltose syrup, what's that?) to the dreaded deep-frying part...all those added roadblocks only made the final result appear more impressive. To me, at least. My sisters took one look at the raw chicken feet and refused to touch the cooked ones with a ten-foot pole.

I guess they do look vaguely...grotesque.

Why chicken feet? Well, they've always been a firm favourite amongst the adults in my family whenever we go out for Yum Cha. And since I rarely cook Chinese food for my family, preferring to leave the job for our more seasoned chefs (i.e. the grandmas), I want to make something that's not usually on the weekly menu when I do get the opportunity to wear the apron. I spotted the chicken feet at the Saturday Flemington Markets, and they were so cheap (around $2 a kilo) that I impulsively bought 2kg of them without a clear idea of what I would do with it all. I'm glad these turned out so well, because I still have a kilo stashed in the freezer!

!!!They have nails!!!

Maybe I should have given a warning before that picture. Whoops.

I used to dismiss Chinese cookery as the same old mish-mash of soy sauce, ginger, garlic and spring onions (and, ahem, MSG). Hopefully this won't sound too much like a reflective essay but: my eyes have genuinely, genuinely been opened by trying out Chinese recipes for myself. The careful balance of the "suan tian ku la" (sour, sweet, bitter, spicy) flavours, the use of all parts of the animal, the ability to transform something as unyielding as tendons into this wondrous chewy, gelatinous gustatory delight - it's anything but boring. Far from it. These "Phoenix Claws" weren't perfect, but because I had made them from scratch, and because of everything I've mentioned in this post, they tasted like the best chicken feet dish I've ever eaten. And judging by the way my family polished off the whole kilo I'd cooked, I'd wager that this recipe is a winner :)

Dim Sum-style "Phoenix Claws"

Recipe adapted from Yum Cha !

1kg chicken feet
2 cups vegetable oil (to fry them in)
4 litres water (or enough to cover the chicken feet for boiling)
60g fresh ginger, cut to 2mm slices
6 pieces star anise
1 small bunch coriander/cilantro roots
120g maltose syrup*

For the marinade:
4 tablespoons oyster sauce*
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons shaoxing wine*
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons black bean sauce*
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil*

*Available from most Chinese grocery stores


1. Wash chicken feet thoroughly, and chop off the tips of toes to remove nails. Scrap off any remaining bits of scaly yellow skin.

2. Dry the chicken feet with a paper towel. Toss the chicken feet in maltose syrup (you may have to melt the maltose syrup over heat to soften it) to coat.

Maltose syrup (right) and black bean sauce (left). 

3. Heat vegetable oil in wok over high heat until smoking. Fry chicken feet in batches, until the skin is a nice deep, mahogany colour. 

My ineptitude resulted in some burnt bits, but I simply scraped those bits off and carried on :)

4. In a pot, boil water and add ginger, star anise, and cilantro/coriander roots. Add the fried chicken feet. Bring everything to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 90 minutes. Drain.

Boiling the fried chicken feet.

5. Combine the marinade ingredients. Marinate the feet overnight, or at least 12 hours. Before serving, steam the chicken feet and marinade for about 15 minutes.


  1. Wow! I have never seen anyone attempt to make this freaking awesome YumCha dish before!! This is great :) Thanks!

    1. Thank you! These are so expensive at Yum Cha, and my whole family (and myself) absolutely love them :D

  2. What do you do with the broth, by the you discard it? I supposed that you only marinate the chicken feet sans the broth...thanks for sharing this recipe, btw.

  3. Hi Rachel dB,
    You can use broth for noodle soup. Just add some meat and vegetables. Dont waste the broth

  4. Hi Rachel dB,
    You can use broth for noodle soup. Just add some meat and vegetables. Dont waste the broth