Chicken Feet: Phoenix Claws from Phoenix Palace

Despite what the supermarket aisles may lead you to believe, there's more to an animal than neatly wrapped styrofoam trays of meat. From tongue to tail, offal (pronounced awful) encompasses all those taboo edibles that don't make the cut at your local grocer. Just Offal is here to explore these oft-neglected byproducts of butchering, featuring different offal meats from establishments across the Valley.

This week: Chicken Feet served up by Phoenix Palace.

The Ick Factor: Look down. Those are your feet. Hungry?

Chicken feet are intrinsically linked to the appendages we use to get around on a daily basis. They use them the same way we do, except their knees bend in the opposite direction and they look like strange, spindly alien claws. Upon first glance they look nigh inedible, and are a bit baffling as a food product if you've never considered eating them. But that's what we're here for, to address all those foods that elicit the impulse, "No way! That's edible?" Why yes, yes they are.

Be forewarned that unlike our meaty and muscular morsels, chicken feet aren't much more than skin and bones with some cartilage and fat to bind them together. If your favorite part of fried chicken is the skin, these might be the perfect addition to round out your credentials as a chicken aficionado (better toss in some gizzards too if you want that title). Plus, when you order them they're called Phoenix Claws, a hardcore name that makes them infinitely more metal.

(bite into all the juicy details after the jump)

The Offal Choice: The perfect addition to your next dim sum, Phoenix Claws from Phoenix Palace. Four chicken feet marinated in a sweet and spicy chili sauce.

Tastes Just Like: Chicken feet are wholly unlike most meaty products out there, and most closely resemble the wiry wing tips that most people remove before making hot wings. Nibbling the skin and meager muscle off a wing tip is as close a taste and textural experience as you'll get to consuming chicken feet without jumping into the deep end. The high cartilage and gelatin to meat ratio is also similar to pig trotters. Proof that feet are feet.

Chicken feet have a concentrated chicken-y flavor and act as bony sponges to soak up the delicious marinade surrounding them. At Phoenix Palace the chicken feet were spicy and sweet, with a wonderful umami mouthfeel. The sauce that the chicken feet came in was ridiculously tasty. Definitely order some of those fried breadsticks they bring around on the carts to soak up the extra goodness.

Texture is probably where I'll lose even some of the more adventurous eaters out there. Chicken feet have a really spongy and gelatinous texture that sort of squishes in your mouth as you eat them. There are also lots of pesky little bones in the way. This combo makes the chicken feet slippery enough to try and wriggle out of your chopstick grasp at first opportunity.

Really though, there is no way to look dignified eating chicken feet. Since they're packed with bones, your best bet is to pick them up hot wing style and gnaw away everything soft that your teeth encounter. The foot pad in particular is the most "meaty" bit on the claw, so make sure to concentrate your efforts there. After stripping a toe of its goods, spit out the bones into a little pile on your plate.

You Know It's Cooked Improperly When: There really doesn't seem to be a "wrong" way to prepare chicken feet. They're eaten hot, cold, deep fried, steamed, stewed, smoked, and everything in between. It's all a matter of personal preference.

Always Been a DIY-er? Head down to your local ethnic market and pick up some feet priced at about a dollar a pound, one of the cheapest cuts out there. In addition to the dim sum classic, Phoenix Claws, chicken feet make the most amazing homemade chicken stock. Just ask your grandma for her opinion on the matter!

Know of some offal we have to try? Leave your suggestions in the comments section.

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Erica O'Neil