Sure, everyone knows what Dim Sum is. It’s those little dumplings made of shrimp and things and you dip them in soy sauce. If you haven’t been to China or, at least, Hong Kong, you have only a minor idea of what Dim Sum is. It is probably the quirkiest culinary area on the planet.
If you want to be a Dim Sum Chef you have to train for almost eight years. In general, this training is done on the job. However, the cuisine is so, almost infinitely, complex, that a Chef never stops learning.
Many Westerners are surprised that Chefs in China have Competitions and Awards for their skills. The Chinese Chef must know all the ingredients that go into his dishes, from the raw, perhaps, wild state, to partially finished products that are used for cooking.
I once asked a Chinese Chef how he would prepare live scallops that I had brought to his kitchen. I thought I would show off and tell him how we cooked scallops in Italy. He smiled at me after I stopped talking and told me in a quiet voice that the scallops I had brought were not the ones they used in Italy. The scallops that I had brought had no roe, which Italian scallops are famous for. He then gave me a lecture on the different types of wild scallops, of what their anatomy consisted, and how they could be best cooked.
I consoled myself by mumbling: “Well, doctors don’t know everything. We just think we do!”
DIM SUM IN CHINA
Every Westerner who fancies himself a gourmet, think she knows what a Dim Sum restaurant is like.
Just a large restaurant with many round white tables, pots of tea and servers pushing carts with small round bamboo steam baskets or small round white soup dishes contain three or four white dumplings with, perhaps, a dash of green cilantro. There 30 or 40 different items on the menu. Of course, written in Chinese with a translation into English.
In China, or in Hong Kong, a serious Dim Sum restaurant is almost half the size of a Soccer pitch. There are generally 300 to 400 items on the menu and the servers do not push carts between the tables, but glide, like white birds, between the tables where they take orders and the kitchen, which looks like a Turkish steam bath. The menu is in Chinese with no translation to any other language.
Along with the dozens of servers are Captains who jump in when there is a problem, such as a foreigner who cannot speak the language, and doesn’t know what he wants or what it looks like.
Over the entire scene is a Director who never talks to the guests, but merely keeps his eye on the flow of activity and consults with only the Captains when they cannot handle a problem.
In the kitchen, there is a welter of shouting and ordering and pushing. Dim Sum items must be freshly made, generally steamed or fried, and rushed to the guest. No place for people who don’t know what it is all about. As for the dishes, they encompass the entire geography of China.
As they say in China if it walks, flies, swims or has its back to the sun, it’s edible. Dim Sum does not break that rule. The only difference in Dim Sum and ordinary Chinese cuisine, is the size of the portion, the wrapping of the delicacy and the dim Sum sauce.
In addition, the tea plays a major role. Ordinary Oolong is the normal presentation, but Chrysanthemum Tea, “Flower Tea” is also very popular. The Dim Sum feast is really a morning event, and the Tea component is the underlying motif.
DIM SUM CHICKEN FEET
When I was a kid in our Italian kitchen we ate chicken feet routinely. Since we had to kill, clean and butcher the chicken, part of the process was the cleaning and preparing of the chicken feet.
The chicken foot is a remarkable appendage. It has four toes, each with a nail on it. For those people who have studied Comparative Anatomy and know that all species are related, there is a stub of a fifth toe high up on the “ankle.”
Before we can dissect the foot, if you have just removed it from the bird, you must singe the skin with a gas fire so that the hard glabrous skin falls off. Once the foot is totally clean, the nails must be removed.
This always bothered me when I was a boy. The foot almost looked like a tiny human hand and the nails were very much like human nails. Once the nails are gone, it is routine to sever the “foot” from the “ankle.”
Then the cooking begins. There are many different recipes for chicken feet– Chinese style or Dim Sum style. The Dim Sum style is the most complex.
First the feet must be marinated in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, wine and maltose sugar. Then the feet are fried in oil to give a crispy crunchy taste to the outside layer.
Following the frying there is a long, one to two hour boiling process with Star Anise added for that complex flavor. Following this wet phase, there is a final savory phase where black beans are rendered into the crunchy skin.
Before serving, if the feet are cold, a steaming phase occurs with added sauce and presentation.
WHAT DO THEY TASTE LIKE?
Ask any Chinese citizen. Dim Sum Chicken Feet have no equal!
Remember the anatomy. The bones are tied together by ligaments. The ligaments are made of collagen and elastin. These proteins turn into gelatin. From the ankle to the toes go all the tendons. Tendons are also elastic proteins with a fibrous skeleton. After cooking the tendons are gelatinous.
The skin, having been fried, has that fatty flavor. Who hasn’t eaten fried chicken skin?
Crispy crunchy outside, gelatinous inside and tiny bones to wiggle and spit out with your agile tongue.
HOW MANY CALORIES?
Answer: very few. One hundred grams cost less than 200 calories.
Remember! Bones have almost no calories. Tendons are protein at 425 calories per 100 grams. Skin, mostly fat, but low weight. Of course, if you eat a kilo of chicken feet you will not die, but you will gain weight and probably have indigestion.
Apart from that, the Dim Sum restaurant does not give chicken feet away free.
KA YUE’S RECIPES
I asked our correspondent in Hong Kong, how he makes Chicken feet.
Here is part of his reply:
1. The dim sum style
Cut the nails off (or the tip of the feet), then cut the feet into 2 parts (the palm and the upper part) season the feet with salt and sugar to taste, then coated with dark soy sauce. Allowed that to marinate for a couple of hours.
THEN THIS IS THE HARD AND DANGEROUS PART —- Heat oil to fry the chicken feet, make sure the oil is hot, but not burning. This will give a bad smell, keep the chicken feet separate. Fry the feet until it past golden brown (it will not take long because the feet is coated with dark soy sauce). Take the feet out from hot oil, let it cool down, then mix with dried black bean and chop garlic, steam and serve.
2. Home style
Do the cleaning and the cutting as shown in 1., then marinate that with salt, sugar, and mix with dried black bean and chopped garlic. Steam and serve.
3. Stew style
Cleaning and cutting as in 1., marinate with light soy sauce, salt, sugar. Stir fry the feet with couple slices of ginger root and couple cloves of garlic until it gives out a nice smell, then add some water (enough to cover half the feet in the wok), add a couple small pcs of rock sugar if you have them but not necessary, then add oyster sauce to your taste ( about 1 1/2 table spoon will usually do), stir and mix well, when the water starts to boil, turn down the heat and put on the lid, let it simmer for a while.
The time will depends on how much feet you are cooking, usually when the feet becomes tender, or the sauce start to thicken (chicken feet will give out a gelatin stuff and thicken the sauce after simmer a while).
I usually do the home style, and it is the easiest one and it tastes just as good. The dim sum style is good, it gives color to the feet and the skin is a little softer; but the frying process is too much trouble and the smell it gave off will certainly turn your appetite off (but surprisingly it taste alright).
This article gives the reader a superficial idea of Dim Sum and Dim Sum Chicken feet. The reality is much more complex, as is the reality of everything in the Universe.
If you have never eaten Dim Sum Chicken Feet, get up your courage and give it a try. Once addicted to this delicacy you will never give it up.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter in order to receive timely messages!