For someone new to Chinese dim sum, braised or boiled chicken feet can sound — and let's face it, even look — totally unappetizing. Despite being one of the most popular and time-consuming dim sum dishes out there, just one glance at a bowl full of chicken toes doesn't have quite the same appeal for Americans as it does for people in other countries where the dish is considered a delicacy — places including Trinidad and Tobago, Russia, Jamaica, Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia, Korea, and — of course — China.
But for those who love chomping, sucking, and picking at bone, cartilage, and skin, chicken feet can be a real treat, and the brag-worthy street cred you'll get for eating the least desirable part of the chicken could make it worth the gamble. Aside from all that, however, if you can get over the fact that you're eating feet, it's actually one of the tastiest dishes around.
Much of the edible part of chicken feet is skin — not muscle — which delivers a distinct gelatinous texture. Of course, picking around all those tiny bones and tendons (and yes, even nails) can make the dish difficult to tackle for more squeamish eaters, who must learn the art of sucking meat off all those inedible parts.
In China, chicken feet are a popular bar snack, where they're cooked in a three-step process that includes frying, braising, and simmering, transforming them from tough and leathery to tender, flavor-packed fare. Many Hong Kong dim sum restaurants will gently boil them in a spicy sauce flavored with soy, Szechuanese peppercorn, clove, garlic, star anise, cinnamon, and chili flake.
That's how you'll find them at Toa Toa Chinese Dim Sum Restaurant, where chef-owner To Wong has been making authentic, Hong Kong-style braised chicken feet for more than two decades at his Sunrise restaurant. Cooked to-order, each dim sum sized serving arrives with four to five feet per bowl, each one stained a deep red-brown from a long simmer in Wong's homemade sauce. The meat is so tender there isn't even any real chewing involved, the meat falling straight from bone and tendon in plump, gelatinous strips.
Are chicken feet worth a try? If you're headed to Toa Toa, we certainly think so.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.