Eating “nose to tail” is becoming all the rage these days. This is in contrast to what modern people are told to fear or throw away – skin, fat, bones and organ meats. But when you decide to go down a traditional foods path, how do chicken feet fit into the mix?
Why Chicken Feet?
What makes chicken feet so special? First and foremost is a large amount of collagen.
Do you know how bone broth and gelatin are incredibly popular of late? Well, chicken feet are one of the best sources for collagen and other compounds that make bone broth and gelatin so special.
Collagen has numerous benefits supported in the scientific literature including:
- Improve digestion and gut hormone functioning (1)
- Improved calcium and protein absorption (2)
- Better skin and gum and other tissue health (3)
- Benefits to our blood vessels (4)
- Improves bone density and joint mobility (5)
Around a quarter of all protein in the body is comprised of collagen (which comes from a word that means glue). Also, just a quick science note, gelatin, and collagen are closely related. When you cook collagen-rich foods, as the protein breaks down, it forms gelatin.
The above alone make chicken feet a clear winner. But there is more.
They are also rich in glucosamine and chondroitin. These substances are structural components of cartilage, the tissue that cushions the joints. While the results are mixed, some studies point to benefits from taking supplements containing these compounds. (6)
Such supplements are expensive, especially compared to drinking some chicken stock every day with all the other benefits it brings! To top it off, chicken feet are also a good source of hyaluronic acid, which has benefits for protecting the skin and preventing early skin aging. (7)
Chicken feet are extremely nutritious, containing a good balance of the three macronutrients as well as an excellent mix of vitamins and minerals.
One pair contains the following nutrients:
- 150 calories
- 19 g protein
- 4 g carbohydrate
- 8 g total fat
- 100 UI vitamin A
- 86 mg folate
- 13 mg choline
- 88 mg calcium
- 83 mg phosphorus
Since almost all nutrition data for chicken is based on testing confinement raised animals, expect pastured chickens with access to fresh green shoots, grubs, and insects to have an even better nutritional profile.
Other studies of pastured raised animals show that they are significantly more nutritious, including having more optimal omega-3 to omega-6 fat ratios.
Sourcing the Best Chicken Feet
While the eyes might be the gateway to the soul, the feet tell you a lot about the farmer!
The quickest way to know if your poultry farmer is doing a good job is to look at the feet of his chickens!
Overly dirty or ammonia burned feet are a sign of poor management. Ammonia burns that look like growths or calluses mainly happen because of three reasons.
- The farmer isn’t moving the chickens often enough so they are standing/walking on droppings.
- Too many chickens crammed into too small space/coop/chicken tractor.
- The farmer isn’t using sufficient bedding or managing the bedding properly (for chickens that are not pastured, perhaps because of time of year, weather, etc).
No wonder conventional poultry farms do not include chicken feet with the other cut-up parts (thighs, breasts, and wings) like in other countries. They have something nasty to hide! (10)
See the picture below which shows a healthy-looking chicken foot on the left and an ammonia-burned one on the right.
Some new farmers who are still learning may have problems – be gracious in these situations, as they probably already know it is a problem and are seeking to correct it.
But for established farms, other than weather or other factors, plump, healthy-looking and relatively clean feet (think what you expect your kids’ feet to look like after playing outside) are the surest signs that your farmer is managing poultry birds properly.
Fresh or Frozen?
Some farmers sell chicken feet fresh, others offer them only frozen.
Sometimes they are included as part of the purchase of your pastured chicken, and others sell them separately in bags.
Generally, feet sell for anywhere from $1.00-$4.00 per pound depending on where in the country you find yourself. Some farmers sell them already cleaned, which should factor into what you are willing to pay.
Pre-cleaned, frozen feet that you can use anytime may run a buck or so extra a pound, but the added convenience is generally worth the additional price.
If you can’t find chicken feet from a local farmer, you can often find them at ethnic grocery stores and similar operations. The problem? They may have NO idea how the chickens that the feet came from were raised or treated.
There are a few good brands of chicken feet in some markets in some parts of the country from decent, confined chicken operations, including some organic ones. Chicken feet are available online as well on a seasonal basis. These are a good compromise if you can’t source locally. But generally, I would never want to eat chicken feet from a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).
How to Prepare and Cook Chicken Feet
So, now that you have good feet, what do you do with them? If they were already clean and sanitized by the farmer, you can pop them right into the pot with the other bones when you are bringing your stock to a boil.
If they are dirty, they should first be cleaned and possibly peeled.
There are a few ways to go about this process.
Some people like to blanch the feet. This means placing them in boiling water for anywhere from about 10 to 30 seconds.
The feet then easily peel away from the dirty outer skin, which is discarded.
If the feet are in the water too long, they will begin to cook, and the skin will not easily come off. So be sure to watch them closely once they are boiling!
Once peeled, give the feet a quick final rinse and then into the stockpot they go.
Scrub and Wash
Others suggest that after a light scrub and good washing, soak the feet in a water/vinegar solution for 10 or so minutes.
Then, scrub them one more time and rinse.
This approach should also render the feet ready for the stockpot. (11)
Should You Remove the Claws?
There is some disagreement on whether removing the claws is a good idea.
The thing is, they contain a great deal of collagen. So like removing the skin, it is really your call if you want to take the extra time.
The concern with the claws is that stuff may be stuck underneath and end up in the stock. If you clean the feet thoroughly, boil them in the stock for several hours, and then strain off the chicken fat or schmaltz, there aren’t really any issues. However, some people are still put off by the thought.
Depending on your opinion, keep or remove the claws based on your personal comfort level.
Chicken Feet Broth and Soup
What if you want to make homemade broth or soup with chicken feet because they are more budget-friendly than a whole pastured chicken. Is this possible?
Follow the same basic guidelines for any good stock – around two pounds of feet (bones plus meat) per gallon of water to ensure a good measure of gelatin.
You can add your vegetable scraps, any stock seasoning and the like as normal and cook the stock as you normally would. Chicken stock often makes a bright, gold-tinged liquid when made from feet alone – just like with regular bones.
Once you have the broth made, use this base to make chicken feet soup. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy or blend in other ingredients to make it more fancy as desired.
Adding Feet to Bone Broth
A few chicken feet go a long way! For us, in an eight quart Instant Pot batch of stock, we will add two to four feet, depending on how many and what types of other chicken bones we have on hand. Otherwise, keep everything else the same.
Making broth in a slow cooker or crockpot would be similar.
Also note, if you have had trouble getting your chicken stock to gel once cooled, chicken feet often can make all the difference. Just a few add a significant amount of gelatin to the mix.
Keep in mind that like regular stock, if you overcook stock with added feet, the proteins break down to the point where the liquid won’t gel no matter how many feet you add!
Fried Chicken Feet
If you want to eat your chicken feet instead of using them to make broth, frying them up is definitely the way to go.
While most Westerners cringe at the idea of eating chicken feet, in many cultures they are a delicacy similar to how Americans view chicken wings!
Many traditional Asian recipes eat the feet fried, braised, or prepared a number of other ways.
Just be sure to use a healthy oil for cooking (unrefined avocado oil works well).
If you choose to bread them, keep the heat as low as possible and fry for the shortest amount of time to minimize acrylamide formation.
(1) Oral ingestion of a hydrolyzed gelatin
(2) Calcium and Collagen for Preventing Bone Loss
(3) Collagen Benefits to Skin
(4) Blood flow interplays with elastin: collagen and MMP: TIMP ratios to maintain healthy vascular structure and function
(5) Hydrolyzed collagen intake increases bone mass of growing rats trained with running exercise
(6) Glucosamine and Chondroitin for Osteoarthritis
(7) Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging
(8) Collagen and Gelatin
(9) Effect of the novel low molecular weight hydrolyzed chickn sternal cartilage extract
(10) Chicken Feet at Mexican Wal-Mart
(11) Making Stock with Chicken Feet