Last weekend I came home to discover that something has been getting into our chicken run. In the last week we’ve lost 11 out of 25 chickens. That’s almost half our flock! The price of raising these meat birds just doubled. Ouch.
We were oblivious until my little girl was outside playing and noticed one of the chickens laying on its side in the chicken run. She hurried inside to tell me that something was wrong. When I went out to see what was the matter I found the chicken still alive, but with a big gash in its side.
The wound was fresh. Something had just been in the run trying to kill my bird. I glanced around at the flock and discovered another chicken laying a little further in the woods. It was dead, but the body was still warm.
Dang it. My guess is it was a fox.
Why You Should Use Up Chicken Feet
I called my husband to come and finish off the suffering bird. Although we had plenty else we’d planned on getting done that day, butchering became top priority. (Homesteading is like that. You never can really plan your days. Nature will always throw a curve ball.)
The birds aren’t quite fully grown, but at eight weeks old they were big enough to get a meal off of. We decided that since the kill was fresh it would be safe to eat the chickens, we just cut around the damaged meat on each bird.
So, we set to work plucking. Plucking chickens stinks, by the way. Literally. Like smelly, wet dog. We really need to get a mechanical plucker.
Wanting to salvage as much as possible, the feet were processed with the rest of the good meat. Chicken feet make the best stock, and are an excellent source of rich gelatin.
When used correctly, chicken feet can increase the complexities of flavor in your stocks, soups, and broth. When you add chicken feet to a meal, you also upgrade the nutritional value of your meals. Chicken feet provide a ton of collagen and gelatin, both of which have anti-inflammatory and joint-protective properties. They’re also high in essential vitamins and minerals, like calcium.
Here in the United States, we don’t use chicken feet in our cooking that often. In fact, most of the feet from our factory farm-grown chicken go right to China.
Chicken feet don’t actually have any meat in them – mostly cartilage and bone. Actually, something I learned when peeling my first set of chicken feet is that the different between chicken stock and broth is that broth, which is thicker than stock, is made with the feet, while stock is made without.
If you’re interested in really head-to-tail processing your birds, you’ve got to start using the feet. It will allow you to use all parts of the animal so nothing goes to waste.
Plus, peeling and cleaning chicken feet ultimately doesn’t take that long. You can have more than a dozen ready to go in just 30 minutes. They also freeze well. In most cases, you can store chicken feet in the freezer for up to six months. Just make sure they’re wrapped up properly to prevent freezer burn.
Do Chicken Feet Actually Need to Be Peeled?
There is a bit of debate over whether chicken feet actually need to be peeled. And if you could get away without having to do it, I’d say avoid it – it’s not fun, quick, or easy.
However, I really recommend peeling the feet because chicken feet are not clean. No matter how well you clean and peel the feet, there are so many cracks and crevices in the skin that it would be next to impossible to get everything out. You really don’t want chicken poop in your broth, do you?
If you’re not going to peel them (my grandmother didn’t, but again, I don’t recommend it) you will want to make sure you thoroughly clean them. The best way to do this is to rinse away all visible dirt and debris under running water. Then, soak the chicken feet in a solution of water and vinegar for about ten minutes. Agitate the feet to get rid of any particles that may have loosened up.
Rinse the feet, then soak again for a few more minutes. Give them a final rinse and you may be able to throw the chicken feet in your stockpot just like that.
However, I think I’ll stick to peeling mine, thank you!
How to Clean, Process, and Peel Chicken Feet
Peeling chicken feet is not difficult, but there is a process involved.
As you’d imagine, the feet are the dirtiest part of the bird. You don’t even want to know what’s on them.
Cleaning well is crucial.
I like to hold the feet under hot running water to wash most of the gunk off. Then I use a scrub brush to get them as clean as possible. I don’t use soap or bleach, or anything like that. Just lots of hot water and scrubbing.
I’m not going to lie. This picture totally creeps me out. The texture of the feet is even weirder than they look. Try not to think about it too much as you work with them.
Another thing that’s important to note is that you should always work in small batches. In this circumstance, I was forced to work in small batches – I only had one chicken!
But if you have lots of chicken feet to process and peel, you’re going to want to clean and chill small batches at once. The reason why is it’s going to be much harder to peel a foot that’s been sitting in ice for along time.
Try not to boil more than four or five feet per batch.
Once the feet are super clean, toss them into a pot of simmering water for between 10-20 seconds. Don’t boil them. A hot simmer just on the verge of a boil is perfect.
You don’t want to cook the feet too long, because they’ll become more difficult to peel as the skin and scales begin to adhere to the flesh underneath.
The first time I peeled chicken feet I assumed (wrongly) that the longer I boiled, the easier the feet would be to peel. That wasn’t the case. It made it much harder.
Use tongs to transfer them to a bowl of ice cold water.
Let them sit in the cold water for a few seconds before taking them out one by one to peel.
The skin should peel right off. If it isn’t peeling easily, pop it back into the simmering water for another 10 seconds. That should do the trick. Peel as much as you can by hand.
Next I like to use a stiff brush to finish scrubbing off what remains of the skin. The feet will be nice and white.
Are you sufficiently creeped out yet?
We’re almost done. I promise.
Most people prefer to chop off the tips to remove the nails before cooking. They probably don’t taste very good.
The toenail has a covering that can pop right off. If you don’t want to take the time to remove the nails, just cut the whole end of the toe off.
You might find that the scales on the very top of the foot stick on and don’t peel very well. If you freeze your chicken feet ahead of time, you’ll have an easier time with this.
Now the chicken feet are ready to be cooked however you see fit.
Whenever I have chicken feet I like to use them to make a rich bone stock. I just toss them into the pot with all of the other bone and veggie scraps I’m cooking.
Some people make stock out of chicken feet alone. You can read how I use kitchen waste to make From Scratch Chicken Stock for a nutritious soup base.
You can store the feet in the fridge for a few days until you’re ready to use them, or put them in a freezer bag for longer storage.
Once your feet are peeled, they can be boiled down into a broth, too. Chicken broth (or stock) can be used in soups as well as in dishes that call for chicken stock, like risotto. You can freeze excess broth or even process it in a pressure canner.
Peeling Frozen Chicken Feet
You can also peel chicken feet that were previously frozen. To do this, you’re going to have to start near the joint. You’ll have some scales flapping off already.
They’ll peel off in large pieces, for the most part. If you’re having trouble getting the skin to peel, you can use a pair of shears to make an incision. Then, your work will be a lot easier.
Where to Buy Chicken Feet
If you don’t have your own chickens yet but still want to benefit from all the nutritious goodies found in chicken feet, don’t worry – you can buy them at most butcher shops and processing facilities. Just keep in mind that many processors ship their feet overseas because they sell better in other countries.
However, you can check around to local farmers that grow meat birds along with farmers markets, ethnic grocery stores, and butcher shops.
Whether you raise your own chickens or not, chicken feet are great to use in broth – they’ll add so much complexity and nutritional goodness to your cooking.
So what do you say? Are you ready to start cooking with chicken feet?
updated 07/10/2020 by Rebekah Pierce
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.