Fiery Chicken Feet
Before you turn up your nose and say “gross,” remember that the chicken wing was also a much neglected part of the bird until a restaurant in Buffalo did something special to them.
My first experience with chicken feet (“Dalk Bal” 닭발) in Korea was not spectacular. We were having a beer at our favorite drinking hole when the proprietor offered some chicken feet that a neighboring restaurant had given her. They tasted okay but were a little off. Immediately I identified it as freezer burn.
Unlike my friend who was with me, I gave them another try much later. Chicken feet in Korea are done like hot wings in America, but the sauce is much smokier, sweeter, and hotter. And there are no vegetables or blue cheese dressing to take the heat off.
I have grown to really like these. The flesh around the foot, especially the padding, it fatty and matches the flavor of hot sauce well. Besides, you can get immature and make your chicken feet do rude gestures.
Tonight, my friends took us to a restaurant that was famous for chicken feet. Usually, it’s bar food and not something that would be considered a meal, but this restaurant has done it somehow.
Looking at the patrons’ faces, it seemed like it was something people do on a dare than a “Hey honey, let’s take the kids out for burn-your-butt-off chicken feet tonight” meal.
The first sign of things to come was the complimentary plastic gloves for protection.
Then a soup came out. It was a simple chicken broth with dried seaweed, green onion, and gochugaru (red pepper powder). It was surprisingly spicy for such a mild soup. My friends said it was to build up your tolerance for the main dish to come.
Some rice bowls came out with julienned dried seaweed on them, along with plates of stir-fried spicy chicken gizzards. We mixed the gizzards with the rice and wrapped them in more dried seaweed given to us in individual packets. This brought the spice level up another few Kelvins.
Then the chicken feet came out. These were different from others that I’ve had in that they were barbequed. The bones were also crunchier than the ones I’ve had at beer hofs. The women with us showed a way to properly debone the feet.
After doing a few like that, we all abandoned convention and just sucked the meat off the leg bone.
Even though we were sweating, blowing our noses (usually a rude gesture at the table in Korea), and I personally had tears running down my face, we ordered another batch.
I have experimented with making my own chicken feet at home. I got a big bag of them for only 1,000 won ($1).
There is not much information on the internet on how to make them. I’ve called Korean friends for ideas, and most were clueless. The best suggestion I got was to boil them first to make the toe bones softer.
Before boiling, though, there is much preparation. The raw chicken feet come with some skin that has to be peeled off. The claws have to be clipped to. This was the first food I’ve prepared that needed a pedicure. I also clipped off any blemishes, usually around the padding.
When I boiled them, I discovered another great thing. Chicken feet make a good chicken stock. It didn’t occur to me that they’re full of cartilage, which is what makes a stock a stock.
Now that they were soft, I wanted to make them crispy on the outside. In the future, I’ll skip this step. Chicken feet explode when deep fried — violently. I had a frying screen to block the oil, and the oil exploded so violently, it knocked the screen off.
In the end, the experiment was a bust, but I did figure out how to make the famous spicy sweet garlicky Yangnyeom 양겸 sauce that comes with much fried chicken and chicken feet. Now, I threw this together, so I don’t remember any measurements. I started sweating some chopped garlic and onion in a pan. To it I added a big dollop of gochujang (red pepper paste), a drizzle of sesame oil, and a little honey to sweeten it and give it a glaze and let it simmer until it became saucy. That was it, really. It also makes a great barbeque sauce.
But, yeah, the chicken feet were too hard from frying.