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How to transform chicken feet into delicious 'phoenix talons'

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In honour of the Year of the Rooster well-known Chinese chef Harry Quay teaches us how to prepare chicken feet, or as they're known in Chinese, 'phoenix talons'.

Sydneysider Harry Quay has been teaching Chinese cooking classes for 40 years. He's 85.

"I was born in China, I came out when I was about three or four years old," he told ABC RN.

Harry Quay has been teaching Chinese cooking classes for 40 years.
Harry Quay has been teaching Chinese cooking classes for 40 years.

Supplied: Harry Quay

Harry's first foray into cooking was helping out his dad at their family restaurant.

Two years after moving to Australia Harry had forgotten all his Chinese, but he picked it up again at the restaurant.

"When you go into the kitchen you always learnt the swear words first," he laughs.

After getting a job in Chinatown as a waiter because he could speak English, Harry ended up teaching the executive chef of the restaurant English too.

"In return I watched him like a hawk to see how he did things and I realised then that what I thought I knew about Chinese cooking was nothing. It's a completely new ball game," he says.

When Harry opened his cooking school he taught dishes he knew from his time as a waiter people liked.

Which brings us to chicken feet.

"Chicken feet, it would be [popular] if it was Chinese that I'm teaching," says Harry.

"Most Australians wouldn't like it but those who have experienced it will like it."

Even among his own four children, the two eldest will eat it, the youngest two won't.

"If you actually know how to do it properly it's quite tasty," says Harry. "You will always see it in a Chinese restaurant and amongst Asian people it's very, very popular."

What to do

Harry says there a few things to know about preparing chicken feet.

"When you buy the chicken feet you can buy them already clean," he says. "When I say clean the skin is removed, then they chop off the toenails. And then you wash it of course and make sure it's clean."

Harry prefers deep frying chicken feet to make them firm.

"Deep fry them in oil, drain it well and you can pat dry them with a paper towel. Then I would braise it," he says.

"Braising is cooking it in a small quantity of liquid and this would comprise of water (not a large quantity of water) and then you would use some soy sauce. I would use three quarters light and one quarter dark to get the right colour."

The other seasonings Harry says you need are a little bit of salt, two or three star anise, a bit of sugar (rock sugar if you have it) and some rice vinegar, two or three tablespoons worth.

You can also put in cinnamon sticks, half a teaspoon of cloves and some peppercorns or pepper if you want to. Some people like adding a few drops of sesame oil to the mixture as well.

Chicken feet in a bamboo steamer
Chicken feet are consumed in many cultures, but in Australia you're most likely to see them at yum cha.

Wikimedia Commons: Takeaway, CC-BY-SA-4.0

"You bring all that to the boil and... the deep fried chicken feet you put them into the thing, the liquid has got to be just bubbling generously," he says.

"Cook it until the meat becomes tender, approximately twenty minutes up to half an hour.

"You've got to just stir it occasionally every ten minutes... and don't have the heat too high.

Harry says the best way to test if the chicken feet are ready is by putting a fork in and seeing if it is just soft.

"If you overcook... it will start to come apart and you know you've overcooked it. Taste it and you can adjust your seasoning."

"It's quite tasty and it's worth trying if you want to be adventurous."

Listen to ABC RN's full interview with Harry Quay.

RN asked people to try chicken feet for the first time. See their reactions in the video above.

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