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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Braised Chicken Feet with Mushroom 冬菇焖鸡脚

I remember having my first go at chicken feet when I was still a kiddo in a local coffee shop specializing in curry noodles soup back in my hometown. A humble and a relatively old shop by the name Teng Haw Coffee Shop 祥和茶室, I honestly have got a very fond memory of this coffee shop. This is the very coffee shop that my family had spent every Sunday morning in for our breakfasts growing up. And with every, I actually do mean each and every Sunday, apart from the very few weekends that we happened to be out of town, or the even fewer times that the coffee shop took some breaks from their never-ending business. That happened for at least a good two decades of my life until I moved out during my uni years. But even with my brother and I away from home, dad and mom had carried on with the little tradition of our family until my dad passed. And it remains as my mom's favorite place for a good bowl of curry noodle soup still to-date and of course, mine too whenever I get to spend some time back in my hometown. 

This coffee shop is probably the only place that I have seen serving bowls of curry noodle soups with chicken feet in it. That comes optional, of course. But growing up, this was how we had always had it - a bowl of chicken feet braised in curry broth on the side to go with the bowl of curry noodle soup served with assorted yong tau foo that we would be having individually still. I'm not sure if I had had a pause for thought when I had my first ever encounter with chicken feet. But if I really did have hesitated then, it must have been a short-lived one. I remember how I would always be looking forward to dining there, and how especially dad and I would be disappointed whenever they ran out of their chicken feet. I probably won't be able to tell what about them that really caught my interest, picking the many small bones of theirs or merely enjoying their texture maybe but over time I did discover a great affinity for them - braised, deep fried, simply boiled or those come steaming away in those carts at dim sum places.

Unused and considered inedible in some parts of the world, chicken feet make a delicacy in few others. Moving here, it was many months later before I spotted the first pack of chicken feet sold in a Chinese grocer and that was my first time ever dealing with chicken feet in my very own kitchen making this braised chicken feet with mushroom. And that was a disaster (!!!) with tedious cleaning before and after, and not forgetting the hot oil-water war that started the moment the chicken feet hit the heated oil. While I had somewhat expected some kinds of reaction then, to say that the massive splattering totally got me freaked out still is an understatement. And yes, I felt bad to have taken all the times that mom had made at home for granted all along, at least for a while lol. That battle, however, is something that gets better with experience. With myself getting better braced and more equipped against especially the mini volcano eruption, I soon got comfortable dealing with this doing it the second time and many more after that. That aside, you know it's worth the hassle with the conscious anticipation of a good bowl of chicken feet braised to extreme softness and tenderness as the cooking gets wrapped up at the end each time.

Ever since I started in the kitchen, strolling through the aisles at any grocer place has been my favorite thing to do. Spending all the time I do have browsing through all the shelves, picking up items and studying them not necessarily buying them at the end of it, I think I did learn a whole lot about the range of ingredients that can be incorporated into our everyday meals. And should I have not had the curiosity that got me started in the first place, I probably would have missed this - the spice tea bags. Decided to give this a try about a year ago, I have since been using this pretty much for braising and can never be more satisfied with the end result I get each time. Optional it is, but if there ever were a chance you can get hold of this, this is definitely something so worth a try.

an inexpensive bag of spice that brings hype to braising
ingredients: cinnamon, flennel, zingiber, clove

Braised Chicken Feet with Mushroom 冬菇焖鸡脚 
Serves 5-6
8 pairs of chicken feet
20 shiitake mushrooms, rinsed and soaked to soften
4 hard-boiled eggs prepared ahead of time, shelled
5" ginger, skin peeled and sliced 
6 cloves garlic, skin and hard parts removed, crushed
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp cooking oil plus enough oil for deep frying the chicken feet
1 spice tea bag
3 star anise

Seasoning (mix well in a small bowl) 
6 tbsps light soy sauce
2 tbsps oyster sauce
1 tsp white pepper powder
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 to 2 tsps rock sugar to taste

2 tsps corn starch dissolved in 1/4 cup water

1. Begin with getting the chicken feet ready for deep frying. Remove the outer thin membrane and trim off the claws. Give the chicken feet a good rinse in a colander and drain really well. Pat dry further with layers of paper towels and let air dry for another 10 to 15 minutes, all in the effort to get rid most of the moisture trapped within the chicken feet to minimize splattering when deep fried later.

2. Heat up the wok with enough oil for deep frying. Test the oil by dipping one end of a wooden chopstick into the oil. If the oil has been well heated, a stream of tiny bubbles will form around it. Give it another minute more to heat up otherwise.
3. With the wok lid ready in one hand, carefully bring in the chicken feet. They may have to be done in two separate batches to avoid over crowding. Do note that the splattering will start as soon as the chicken feet come into contact with the hot oil. Make sure each chicken foot is submerged in oil, and put the wok lid on. Let fry undisturbed for about 3 to 4 minutes, then try flipping them over. Replace the lid, and let fry for another minute of so. They are about ready when the splattering ceases noticeably. Remove the chicken feet from the hot oil and let drain on layers of paper towel. Repeat until the whole batch of chicken feet has been deep fried looking brown and golden on the whole.

4. Transfer the chicken feet to a colander. Rinse them thoroughly under running water to get rid of the layer of oil coating them. Drain and set aside.

5. In a wok, heat up a tbsp of cooking oil. Once heated, add in the garlic and ginger and stir until fragrant and slightly browned. Add in the softened shiitake mushroom along with the sugar and and light soy sauce. Stir well to mix and bring in the chicken feet next. 
6. Pour in the seasoning slowly and and mix well.
7. Transfer all the content into a stock pot and add in the hard-boiled eggs. Bring in the spice tea bag and the star anise. Pour in enough water to submerge everything, stir to mix well, cover and leave to boil on high heat. 
8. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium-low and let braise for at least 1½ hours. The aroma coming from the spice will be instantaneous. At the end of it, the water level should have dropped slightly with the chicken feet appearing really tender. Have a taste at the gravy and season further with light soy sauce to taste if necessary. 
9. Thicken with the corn starch slurry and serve. This goes exceptionally well with a bowl of plain rice or it simply makes a great topping to a plate of Wonton Noodles (Dry Version) 干捞云吞面

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