As I contemplated the Coleman cooler sitting in my kitchen, I felt … intimidated. It wasn’t the two turkeys I’d recently helped butcher, or the bloody gallon-sized Ziploc stuffed full of necks and giblets. It was the 14 gray, disembodied, eerily reptilian turkey feet sitting on top.
I was also giddy with excitement. As most of you know, I’m deeply into the subject of nutrition and am always seeking to know what’s in my food down to the micronutrient level. I love knowing where my food is from, who grew it, how it lived, and how it died. While not “fun” (well, ok, it was so tremendously interesting that it tread awfully close to “fun”), participating in the slaughtering and butchering process of seven turkeys was immensely satisfying. I knew these animals from when they were tiny fuzzballs, and had held and petted them. They had been treated VERY well while they lived. They were killed humanely, with as little fear as is possible to impose on an animal. As they died, I sent up a prayer of gratitude for the lives that were taken in order to nourish my own. I think these moments of gratitude are crucial to being an eater of animal flesh; they are what keep us human, connected both to the mortal life cycle and each other. This connection is what’s missing for the overwhelming majority of the U.S., who have been systematically distanced from their food animals by companies interested only in selling us shiny packaging and sanitized, faceless, bloodless “meat”. I, on the other hand, played a quiet little game in the gut pile of “guess what THIS body part is” with myself. (For the record, esophaguses look and feel like long, rubbery, banded smoothie straws, and the wobbly purse-shaped thing at the end of it is NOT the “gobbler”, as I discovered later when I Googled it. It’s a sphincter, and it serves to keep food and drink down once it’s swallowed. So we have sphincters at both ends to keep the food in. How about that for a Thursday Fun Fact?)
I have lots more to say on this subject, but I digress. Back to those crazy feet.
If you’ve made it this far, you must either know why a person would be playing with turkey feet, or wondering why the hell anybody would be playing with turkey feet. Nutrition, of course!
A summary of the benefits of bone broth:
Promotes healing: Bone broths have been used successfully in treating gastro-intestinal disorders, including hyper-acidity, colitis, Crohn’s disease, and infant diarrhea.
Digestive aid: Aids in the digestibility of grains, beans, legumes, vegetables and meats and is hydrophilic in nature
Macro minerals: Contains highly absorbable forms of the calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur and fluoride as well as trace minerals
Gelatin and Collagen: rich in both; promoting bone and joint healing in addition to supporting digestion, particularly broths made from the feet of chickens (and turkeys)
Protein: adds easily digestible protein to your diet
Amino acids: Glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and lysine are formed, which is important to detoxification and amino acid production in the body
Joint support: Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid are produced and present for additional muscle and joint support
Immune system: Promotes the assimilation of vitamins and minerals and thus supports the immune system
Delicious and nutritious: use as soup, cooking liquid, sauce or as a tea.
From Lance Roll, CEC, HLC1, The Flavor Chef
And, according to Jenny, at Nourished Kitchen: ”Chicken feet [and turkey feet] produce a fine golden broth that’s rich in all the obscure nutrients that make a good stock so nourishing: glucosamine chondroitin, collagen and trace minerals. Moreover, a chicken stock is an excellent source of calcium. Understandably, a stock made from chicken feet gels beautifully just as a good stock should.”
So there you have it. Cheap (or in this case, free), bursting with easily absorbed nutrition, and freaky-deaky as HELL. Who could resist, I ask you? Not I!
With the feet of any fowl (and this may already have been done for you if you’re buying them packaged from the market), you need to get the leathery outer layer off. It’s full of stuff that the birds step in all day. Nobody wants THAT soup when it’s done, and who knows if you’d ever get the boiled bird-crap stench out of your curtains?
What you’ll need:
- A large pot with salted water for boiling the feet
- A large bowl filled with ice water
- A small sharp knife
- A large sharp knife
- Cutting board
- Receptacle for discarded skin n’ bits
- Receptacle for cleaned fowl feet
Here’s how I set up my kitchen before I started. (Ignore the scissors; one of the girls left them on the counter and I didn’t see them in time to get them out of the picture.)
Make sure your salted water is boiling hard.
Drop a bird foot into the boiling water and let it boil for just one minute, no more, no less.
Pluck it out of the water with the tongs and immerse it fully into the ice water, and swish it around for about 10 seconds.
Using the large knife, get any feathers or other undesirables cut off the leg end of the foot.
Switch to the small knife and use it to slit the skin, which helps to get you started on peeling it.
Start peeling the skin off. If you’re doing it wrong, you’ll be peeling up the underlying leg cartilage and it’ll bleed, believe it or not. If you’re doing it right, peeling the outer skin will leave a perfect pink replica of itself underneath. Kinda like a macabre jello mold.
When you get to the spur, use the pliers to firmly grasp the hard nail of the spur and wiggle it. The outer shell should pop right off, leaving the shiny whitish-pink claw exposed.
Keep working your way up the toes. I found that after peeling the skin off the “palm” or “frog” of the foot, I could then put my fingers between the toes and keep pulling the skin sheaths off the toes, like turning gloves inside-out. I read several sources that said to chop off the talons at the first knuckle, but I found that the hard outer shell just came right off with the skin, and there’s no sense in wasting the underlying claws since they have all the same nutrients as the rest of it.
When you get to a claw, use the pliers again to get a firm grasp on it. Wiggle it and pull at the same time. It should pop off, just like the spur did, leaving the shiny pink claw exposed.
When you’re done with skinning it, start the next one. I didn’t overlap this process much because I read that if you boiled it too long, the skin fused to the leg and you couldn’t get it off. The horror.
When you’re done with the feet, you might have a lovely pitcher full, like I did.
And your child may think it’s funny to grab a couple and menace you with them, like mine did. Her little sister thought it was hilarious.
Now, as cool as I think bird feet are, I’m not sure I want to make a giant pot of foot-only broth. I decided that since they were much larger than chicken feet, I’d wrap them individually in waxed paper and place them in a Ziploc bag. That way they can be taken out one at a time and added to a pot of regular bone broth when we make it, for added nutrients and gelling.
This was one of the most awesome kitchen experiments I ever did, and I’ll do it again when we run out of paws. I didn’t need to be so intimidated after all. The smell was interesting. It smelled exactly like boiling wool. I used to boil wool in order to dye it, for spinning, and I also sold the handdyed rovings on Etsy. If you’ve ever exhaled into a pure wool scarf on a cold, biting-wind kind of day, and smelled that woolly smell on the inhale, that’s the smell of boiling wool. And of boiling turkey feet, it turns out.