This much-guarded recipe is one that many Cantonese chefs and cooks take to their graves. We’ve pieced together this recipe from a variety of sources. The chicken feet are first deep-fried, then plunged into iced water to make them 'puff up’. Then they’re braised to infuse flavour and achieve a succulent texture. For maximum flavour, marinate the chicken feet overnight.
1 kg chicken feet (see note)
120 g (⅓ cup) char siu sauce (see note)
peanut oil, to deep-fry, plus 2 tbs extra
125 ml (½ cup) Chinese rice wine (shaoxing) (see note)
2 star anise
4 spring onions, cut into thirds
3 cm piece ginger, sliced
100 g (⅓ cup) hot bean sauce (see note)
1 tbs abalone sauce (see note)
1 red birdseye chilli, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
55 g (¼ cup) white sugar
white pepper to taste
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Marinating time: 3 hours
Soaking time: 2 hours
Wash the chicken feet in a large bowl of salted water, removing any scaly yellow outer skin. Chop off the claws and discard, then place the chicken feet in a large bowl and marinate in char siu sauce for at least 3 hours or overnight. Drain the feet, then pat dry with paper towel.
Fill a deep-fryer or large saucepan one-third full with oil and heat over medium heat to 180°C (or until a cube of bread turns golden in 10 seconds). Working in batches, gently drop chicken feet into oil and fry for 3 minutes or until golden. Remove with a slotted
spoon, drain on paper towel, then plunge into iced water for 2 hours or until 'puffed up'.
Place 2 litres water, 80 ml (⅓ cup) rice wine, star anise, spring onions, ginger and chicken feet in a large saucepan. Cover and bring to the boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1½ hours or until tender. Strain chicken feet, reserving 125 ml (½ cup) cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, in a wok, combine hot bean sauce, abalone sauce, chilli, garlic, extra 2 tbsp oil, remaining 2 tbsp rice wine, sugar and reserved cooking liquid, and season with white pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to medium. Add chicken feet and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until chicken feet are warmed through and sauce has slightly thickened. Serve immediately or cool and reheat later in a steamer basket, if desired.
Chicken feet are available from Asian butchers.
Char sui sauce is made from hoi sin, sherry, honey and sugar. It is available from selected supermarkets or Asian food shops.
Chinese rice wine (shaoxing) is available from Asian food shops; substitute dry sherry.
Hot bean and alabone sauces are available from Asian food shops.
Photography by Alan Benson.