Do you have to use chicken feet to have traditional homemade stock, or at least to have healthy food?
Of course not.
If you can’t source chicken feet or can’t stomach the idea, don’t worry about it. You can make awesome, nutritious stock from any old chicken bones you can find, even a family pack of split chicken breasts on sale at your local big box store.
You do what you can with what you have – but if you purchase a whole bird from a local farmer and get the feet, or if you can score some in any way, you might want to know what to do with them to have even better stock.
When chicken feet come up – because this actually happens in my life – people ask me all the time, “What do you do with them?”
Well. First, I tend to terrorize my family with them, chasing them around the room wiggling little chicken toenails around and cackling. This part is very fun, and you mustn’t omit it from the process.
Next, I try to pull the tendon that’s exposed at the top and make the claws move on their own, usually pulling my science-minded boy in on the fun.
Finally, I get around to actually using them in cooking, where the answer is almost too simple: I just throw them into homemade chicken stock. Nothing fancy, nothing special.
Some people would make an entire batch of stock with only feet, like this tutorial that I learned from. Certainly that’s a valid option, and it’s still not any more difficult than just making regular stock (which hopefully you’re doing regularly anyway, and if not – there’s no better time to start!).
I just figure that a chicken comes with two feet, so traditionally I imagine people would have just stewed the whole chicken in the pot, not saved up feet somehow for a special “foot-only” batch of broth. I’ll toss 2-4 feet into every batch of stock I make, and it really does make awesome . rich broth
To Peel or Not to Peel Chicken Feet for Broth
Let’s talk about why we might bother peeling the feet, which is not all that easy, quick, or fun.
There’s some debate about whether or not chicken feet need to be peeled at all.
Those who say the feet should be peeled do it because of what chickens have been running around in all day and the fact that the feet have so many little crevices, it would be hard to really feel like you’d gotten all the dirt (and poop) out before putting them in the pot.
Those who don’t skin the feet either say that their grandmother never skinned them so why should they, or they offer another way to clean the feet thoroughly, like this reader:
To clean feet from your own butchered chickens: Rinse off all visible dirt under running water, then soak the feet in a water-vinegar solution for 10 minutes. Agitate to remove any loosened soil, empty, rinse, repeat, but this time just for a couple of minutes. Final rinse and your chicken feet are spotlessly clean, ready for the stock pot!
If you buy your feet commercially, from a butcher or otherwise, you may find that they’re already skinned (awesome!). If you get them right from a farmer who slaughters their own birds, you’ll likely be left to make the call: to skin or not to skin.
How do you know if your chicken feet are skinned/peeled already?
The skin is yellow, and underneath is white. You can see the difference in this photo:
The little piece of skin on the surface is quite yellow, and also the toenails have this sort of sheath over them, which is still intact on the nail that looks white and more dull. The pinkish, very sharp nails have already been peeled.
If you still feel unsure upon looking at your chicken feet and comparing them to this photo, the skin also separates from the rest of the leg pretty easily when put in boiling water for just a few seconds. You can always test it (or just ask the person from whom you bought the feet).
How to Peel Chicken Feet for Broth
I know you want to see me wave around some chicken feet today, right? If you decide you do want to peel the feet, you can watch this video, or read the written instructions below.
If you can’t see the video, click HERE to view it on YouTube.
1. Scald in boiling water
Figuring out how long to scald is KEY. I tried everything from 5 seconds to a full minute.
A minute is a bit long – the skin definitely starts to get stuck to the meat, what little there is. It’s more like peeling off cooked meat, but not easy.
I think about 10 seconds is the magic number.
I kept the water at a rolling boil and added more water when necessary.
2. Dip in ice-cold water bath
Five to ten seconds in the cold water, no more – it really seems to be easier to peel when slightly warm still.
3. Peel with fingers
When I would hit tricky spots, especially the center of the pads of the feet, I’d dip them back in the boiling water for a few seconds, a quick dip in the cold so I didn’t burn my fingers, and that would loosen it up a bit.
4. Deal with the toenail
Two options: just peel off the outer nail or clip the whole thing.
From the comments at Jenny’s post, which rock, it seems like there are two reasons to clip:
- You don’t want what the chickens have been scratching in as part of your stock, even if it does cook for a long time!
- Sometimes if you don’t clip, the nails come off in the stock and float around.
I strain my stock through a fine wire mesh strainer anyway, so I don’t think the floating nails would be a big deal. I found that about 25% of the time, when I was peeling the skin off the fingers (toes, I suppose), I could get a grip on the end and the outer toenail would pop right off.
90% of the remaining nails would come off with a pinch and a little digging with my own fingernails. Um, gross. Sorry. My fingernails got WAY more of a workout than I expected with this task. I’m not sure if I could do it well without long nails. I tried a paring knife, but it just wasn’t working smoothly for me.
The remaining nails got clipped, which isn’t difficult or time consuming at all. In fact, it probably is faster just to clip them than wrassle with some that don’t want to come off easily.
I used my kitchen shears, which are from Pampered Chef and advertised to be able to cut through chicken bones (they struggle with that). They made quick work of the nails, a simple “snip” and done.
I’ve also just left the nails on and so far I’ve never had any nails floating in the stock, although I do try to get the outer surface to come off.
It might not be necessary to rinse at this point. It just seemed prudent.
Perfecting the Process
I recommend setting up with a bowl of ice water next to the pot on the stove and a surface to work on – a cutting board, large plate, whatever – next to that. Use tongs or maybe a slotted spoon to move the feet from one place to another. I chose tongs because I worried I’d drop the feet off the spoon.
I thought I would do these in batches, 3-4 at a time like when I can tomatoes or peaches, but it seemed like doing one at a time was best, tossing in the “on deck” foot when nearly finished with the one before. If I did a handful at a time, they’d have too long to wait either in the cold water or on the cutting board surface, and I’d end up putting them back in the hot water.
I realized I forgot to rub with salt like I read about in Jenny’s tutorial – would that have made a difference? Too bad I didn’t even check my own notes the next few times I peeled a few, because it would have made a big difference! In case you’re wondering: a quick boil then rinsing in cold water, plus doing 4 at once is NOT a good idea. You might end up just using a paring knife, which is not very efficient with all those creases. I’m such a doof not to look up my own process!
Can You Handle the Feet?
I suppose if you’ve gotten this far in the post, you probably can.
It IS really weird to open the slow cooker or Instant Pot lid and have a big claw waving at you, or worse yet, give the stock a little stir to dip some out to drink and some toenails poke out from the depths – eek! But if you’re a real food cook, you are probably used to plenty of things that would make other folks squeamish. You can do it!
You just might want to hide them from your husband…
My husband caught me running water over a few fresh feet for stock, and he said, “If you expect me to eat anything that’s in, you’d better not tell me about it.”
My response? “Um, Ok, I sure won’t dear…”
He was literally spooning white chicken chili with feet stock into his mouth while talking.
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