Why Didn’t the Chicken Cross the Road?

Because its feet were in China.

Last month I shared Grandma Wong’s simple pork & corn cob consomme. Like all Chinese grandmothers, she also made an excellent chicken version with chicken feet. UGH, you North Americans are thinking!  But that’s what chicken feet are good for — very good in fact.  You don’t eat them. You just boil out all the chicken essence, then discard, just like you will do with your Christmas turkey carcass.

“Using chicken feet produces a rich, bold, flavorful broth” with [nutrient-rich] gelatin” says Lori Molski of Pure Fresh Daily.com, whose soup photo I have ‘borrowed’ here below; see her recipe, among many others on the web.

Plus, Grandma Yue would add, chicken feet are cheap (she had six kids). You can get a whole bagful at the butcher counter for $2 dollars. They come frozen in bags at the Asian & Latino groceries. I’ve bought frozen chicken feet from local organic vendors too. It’s even on their product list.

Frank’s Red Hot wings eating contest (web photo).

What, I ask you, is the difference between wings and feet?! 
Other than people LOVE chicken wings and will over-pay for them routinely, especially if they come covered in bottled spicy sauce?  Chicken wings consist of bone, cartilage and nice moist bits of tendon and dark meat, covered in skin. Chicken feet consist of bone, cartilage and tendons covered in slightly thicker skin. People devour wings, gladly tearing those little proto-limbs apart with hands and teeth — the only way to eat wings, after all. And yet, they want mostly de-boned* chicken these days — dry chalky breast meat, at that — ostensibly because they can’t deal with bones…. Huh??  Enter a new creation, ‘boneless wings’, ie white breast meat processed and molded into a wing shape. (Eye roll.)

In fact, there has been such an explosion of demand for chicken wings in America that chicken producers can hardly keep up!

TIME magazine reported last February a steep rise in demand for chicken wings started three years ago.

USA Today continued:

Wings “used to be a throwaway item,” says Andy Howard, head of purchasing and product development for the Texas-based Wingstop chain. “The poultry guys couldn’t even give it away. Now prices have gone through the roof.” The primary factor driving up wing prices is the growing number of restaurants, including many national chains, that are adding wings to their offerings, says Richard Lobb, spokesman for the Washington-based chicken industry trade group the National Chicken Council.  ….  Other than for wings, the recession has slowed demand, and the overall price for chicken has been soft. “As expensive as wings are, they cannot carry the entire bird,” he says.

To offset wing prices, numerous restaurants are adding “boneless chicken wings” made of breast meat, [Larry Schaefer, founder of the Wisconsin restaurant chain Legend Larry’s] says. “The boneless wing is a much higher profit margin and it also attracts a lot more people who don’t care to eat things on bones,” he says.

TIME magazine also pointed out,

“Peak season for chicken wings is, by no small coincidence, also peak season for many sports lovers. It’s January through March, a span when the NFL Playoffs, the Super Bowl and March Madness take place. The National Chicken Council estimated that 1.25 billion chicken wings were eaten on Super Bowl Sunday, and that 23% of people who watched the game ate wings — a few, or perhaps a few dozen, each.

One interviewee I heard on NPR practically bemoaned the fact that chickens come with only 2 wings. I suppose if the GMO trend continues unopposed and hybridizing becomes ever more acceptable, eventually scientists will implant a chicken with salamander genes — which tastes like chicken anyway — to get a bird which can grow a new wing whenever it loses one. I’ll stop there.

Well, so where do all those unwanted chicken feet end up?  According to The New York Post,

The dark meat generally deemed undesirable stateside will be parceled out to countries in Asia, along with Russia and Mexico. “Most of the world actually prefers the dark meat,” said Tom Super, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council. …“The chicken feet are exported in large portions to China, where they fry and eat them with beer,” Super said.

I bet there’s a spike in fried chicken feet sales during Shanghai Sharks’ b-ball games and national badminton and football (soccer to you and me) tourneys. Well, at least they’re not being ground up and fed to herbivore cows.

Chicken Vegetable Soup made with Chicken Feet Stock (photo Lori Molski, purefreshdaily.com)

So here’s a modest proposal. Given the increasing rate of poverty and food insecurity right here in MN, maybe I should start a campaign to popularize chicken feet soup. Waste not, want not. Think demos at food banks, meals at shelters. I could get Martha Stewart to sponsor me. She grew up solidly working-middle class and spent a year in jail, so she’s likely sympathetic to the plight of tired, poor, huddling masses, yearning for nourishing home-made soup. Plus, Martha would SURELY approve of such resourcefulness. Superstar chef Mario Batali, too, since he’s responsible for reviving (pun intended) the trend of organ meats, pig jowls and such served in haute cuisine fine dining establishments.

Give chicken feet soup a try!  You have nothing to lose and only nice chicken broth to gain. Add a corn cob or two. Both my Chinese grandmas would approve.

Note: I have restrained myself from including a photo of you-know-what. You’re welcome.

 Chicken parts are de-boned. A breast or thigh is not really ‘bone-less’, as if it never had one. This language disassociates food from where it comes from, ie animals. The Chinese words for pork, beef and chicken are “pig meat”, “cow meat” and ‘chicken meat”.


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