I know when you hear the words “chicken feet,” your first thought is probably far from “delicious stock,” but not only is stock made with chicken feet delicious, it is also incredibly healthy. Chicken stock made from chicken feet is rich in a radically underappreciated and misunderstood protein colloquially known as: collagen. Collagen is an essential part of a healthy diet.
Many folks think of collagen in terms of unwanted fat, but like many things in our diets: collagen is very healthy in moderation. Collagen is also not a fat, but in fact is a type of protein. However, collagen lacks in one essential amino acid, so it is not considered a complete protein (8). Numerous studies have proven the health benefits of collagen which include improvements in skin elasticity (10), the recovery of lost cartilage tissue (6, 13), reduced joint pain due activity (12, 2), strengthened tendons and ligaments (9, 3, 11, 1), increased lean body mass in elderly men and premenopausal women (12, 4), and increased bone mineral density in postmenopausal women (5). In summary, collagen is a functional food which has been shown to exhibit important physiological functions with a positive impact on health(8).
Okay, so we know collagen is healthy for us, but allow me to reiterate: collagen-rich chicken stock is the most delicious stock you will ever consume. Even when I don’t make my stock with chicken feet, everyone who has eaten my soups comment on the tastiness of the soup. The secret is in the homemade stock. I promise. While all homemade stocks are usually delicious, a collagen-rich stock is a little extra special. To know if your stock is rich in collagen, a collagen-rich stock will congeal, or thicken, somewhat when it is cooled in the fridge. A broth or stock which is not rich in collagen will stay thin like water when cooled.
Last month I wrote about raising and processing Cornish meat chickens, and I promised I would talk about how to prepare and use the chicken feet for homemade stock. You may find chicken feet at some Asian markets, and most likely they will already be prepared and ready for immediate use. If you are like me and got your feet from processing chickens, you will need to prepare them.
Chicken feet are dirty. In order to use them you must first peel the feet. Yes, you read that correctly. I said peel them. Just like you blanch the body to lose the feathers for removal, you most also blanch the feet. Simply boil them in water for about 15 seconds, dunk them in ice water, and the skin will be loose enough to peel. This is a tedious task. It took me a total of about three hours to boil and peel feet, which I did over the course of three days.
There is not much of a right or wrong way to peel after you blanch. I mostly used a knife to grasp edges of skin and start peeling. It won’t all come off like a glove. It will likely peel off in bits and pieces. Be sure to remove the cap of the toe nail, too. Just grab the nail and tug, and you will see that the outer layer of the toenail pops right off. In the above photo one of four of the nails had been popped off.
After peeling, it’s time to start your stock. I won’t bore you with a detailed recipe. Chances are if you’ve found this post, you’ve already made stock before. Start with your favorite ingredients. For this batch of stock I used 8 chicken feet and three chicken carcasses (after removing legs, breasts, wings, and tenderloins), two diced onions, some celery, a head of garlic, a big knob of ginger, some rosemary and thyme sprigs, a bay leaf, one teaspoon of kosher salt per quart, and 10 quarts of water. I probably could have used two carcasses and had a flavorful stock. I pressure cooked in my dial gauge canner for about 20 minutes after reaching 10 pounds of pressure.
I ended up straining the broth and putting it in the fridge to cool for a day so I could skim off the fat. I usually render it down so it will store in the fridge for a few months, if it even lasts that long. I cook with the fat! I reheated the pot before filling my jars, and I canned 7 quarts of the stock and froze the remaining three quarts.
This stock was so delicious I could have heated it in a mug and drink it. Unfortunately I’d quickly run out of stock for soup if I did that often!
I hope this post may inspire someone to embrace the deliciousness of homemade chicken feet stock, but I can assure you even if you don’t use the feet homemade stock still better than anything you buy from the store.
As always, please feel free to comment or email me with any questions, comments, or concerns!
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