Sometimes knowing that something is really good for you is not enough to overcome the cultural taboo.  Or even the gross-out factor.  I have saved the carcass from lobsters and chickens for a while and using them for stock.  I have a pretty good system going- I just keep a freezer bag going and when i have some bones, I add them in there.  When the bag is full, I get to stock-making.  It has worked well and I have all manner of shellfish, chicken and beef stocks frozen all over the place.  I have never really been able to get my stock really gelatinous, though.  It gets thick sometimes, but not solid and I want solid.  Here is some really in-depth information about the benefits of gelatin and broth, but this is the gist of things:

To summarize, gelatin (broth) can be considered for use in the following conditions: food allergies, dairy maldigestion, colic, bean maldigestion, meat maldigestion, grain maldigestion, hypochlorhydria, hyperacidity (gastroesophageal reflux, gastritis, ulcer, hiatal hernia) inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, malnutrition, weight loss, muscle wasting, cancer, osteoporosis, calcium deficiency and anemia.

This stuff is good for you.  But what is the best source?  Why, chicken feet, of course.  Chicken feet.  My only experience of chicken feet prior to this was a horrible childhood memory burned into my mind’s eye that involved a Sunday brunch of dim sum.  I have successfully avoided such things since.  I believe that using the whole animal is the most humane thing.  I believe that animal-based food is imperative to our best health, and I believe that our cultures over-reliance on “clean and pure” muscle meat has left us deficient in many things that are only found in the parts of the animal that other cultures in other times have used liberally.  That doesn’t help when I find myself doing what I was doing in my kitchen the other day.

I special ordered the chicken feet through a local butcher.  It took about a week for them to arrive, and I paid about $6 for two pounds, which seemed kind of pricy.  But, It’s not like I’m going to shop around.  I brought home my paper package very excited to start in on my project.  I used this recipe for chicken foot stock because I listen to Elise in all things related to cooking, second only to Saint Julia.  So, I unwrap the little buggers, and they are kind of gross, but nothing I can’t handle.  Then I start to read the recipe, and  kicked myself for not reading it sooner.

Chicken? Or ugly baby?

I initially boiled the feet for five minutes to clean them, but later learned that it’s not necessary if the feet are already cleaned and no longer have their bright yellow membrane.  Mine were already clean, and I wish I had know that because this is where it got really gross for me.  After boiling the feet, I drained them and had to chop off the talons at the first knuckle, but that’s not the gross part.  When boiled, the feet become waterlogged and warm which transforms them into  something with an uncanny resemblance to a human hand.  A deformed hand from a human child.  A child about the age of my child after never trimming her tallons fingernails.  I was sort of gagging and yelping, weeping and wailing, swearing and shouting.  I was chanting, “It’s the right thing to do.  It will be worth it.”  It took an eternity, but I got all those fingertips off the warm, fleshy, chubby baby hands and go them back in the pot with the mirepoix and covered up.

Five hours later, I drained the stock, added more water and did it again.  At the end of the day, I had about six quarts of stock which I then reduced to two and a half quarts.  Today when I pulled it out of the fridge, I had a solid block of beautiful gelatin.  This stuff tastes so rich and smells just like Grandmas Chicken Soup.  I’ll never go back to plain old bone stock, or at least I’ll always throw a couple of feet in with my bones.  I used some tonight to replace the water I made my kids rice in, and I had some with my shrimp scampi to replace the wine and it’s just lovely and silky and delicious.  It was worth the strange images that now have replaced the dim sum episode, and I’ll hopefully have the elastic skin and springy, lubricated joints of a 16-year-old.

Natures Restalyene™

So, I don’t know how much money this saved in the end.  A quart of store-brand organic chicken broth is $2.00, and this works out to about the same price.  However, clearly what I have here is a very different product than the stuff from the box.  This tastes better, looks better, and most importantly, I know exactly what is in it.  I think that for me, that is reason enough to never go store-bought again.  It’s chicken feet for me.

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