Air drying chicken feet is a traditional method of preserving them for storage and later consumption. While fresh chicken feet are perishable and will spoil quickly at room temperature, air dried feet can be stored for extended periods while retaining flavor, texture and nutrients. Knowing the right techniques and how long to air dry chicken feet properly ensures tasty, shelf-stable results.
What is Air Drying?
Air drying is one of the oldest and simplest food preservation techniques, used since ancient times before refrigeration. It involves dehydrating food to remove enough moisture that microorganisms cannot grow and cause spoilage. This concentrates flavors and extends the shelf life considerably over fresh foods.
To air dry meat products like chicken feet, they are salted or brined first to enhance preservation. The salt draws out moisture and inhibits bacterial growth. The feet are then set out in air circulation to gradually dehydrate for anywhere from days to weeks, depending on factors like humidity, temperature and desired texture. Fans or dehydrators may be used to speed moisture removal.
Benefits of Air Dried Chicken Feet
Air dried chicken feet have some advantages over fresh:
- Long shelf life – Properly dried feet can last for months without refrigeration.
- No waste – Drying uses the whole foot, including nutritious skin and cartilage.
- Intensified taste – Flavors concentrate as moisture reduces.
- Snack-sized – The smaller dried size is perfect for snacking.
- Adds richness – Dried feet can enrich broths, sauces and braised dishes.
- Health benefits – Chicken feet are high in collagen and other nutrients.
With the right process, air dried chicken feet can be an appetizing and healthy pantry staple.
How Long Does it Take to Air Dry Chicken Feet?
Drying times for chicken feet can vary considerably based on these major factors:
Higher temperatures accelerate moisture evaporation from the chicken feet, shortening total drying duration. Ideal air drying temperatures are between 60-90°F. Temperatures above 90°F can case excessive shrinkage, while below 60°F slows drying.
Low humidity allows moisture to evaporate from the feet more quickly. The optimal humidity range for air drying chicken feet is 50-60%. Higher humidity will extend drying time. Use a dehumidifier if needed.
3. Air Circulation
Good airflow across the drying feet accelerates moisture removal. Place feet in a breezy area or use a fan to maintain air movement without blowing dirt onto them. Turn feet over halfway through for even drying.
Brining leaches out moisture and salt-cures the feet, reducing total drying time. Feet soaked 8-24 hours in a saltwater brine before air drying will take less time overall.
5. Cut Size
Smaller cuts or pieces dry faster due to greater surface area exposure to air. Halved or quartered feet will dry quicker than whole.
6. Desired Texture
For softer, more pliable dried feet, shorten drying time. For very stiff and crunchy feet, extend drying time to remove more moisture. Personal taste preferences for final texture affect total air drying duration.
Taking these factors into account, here are general guidelines for how long to air dry chicken feet to different textures:
Pliable, Chewy Texture
At cooler temperatures and higher humidity, chicken feet dried for this timeframe will retain more flexibility and chewiness without being overly stiff or crunchy.
Leathery, Sturdy Texture
In ideal warm, dry conditions, drying for this period will produce feet with a firmer, drier texture while still maintaining good moisture levels for rehydrating later.
Hard, Crunchy Texture
For very stiff, crunchy dried chicken feet, extend air drying up to a month to remove additional moisture. These will keep longest without spoilage.
Monitor shrinking and texture closely near the end of drying time so feet do not become overly dehydrated and brittle. When properly dried, the feet will not show any moisture droplets or tackiness when squeezed.
6 Tips for Air Drying Chicken Feet
Follow these tips for delicious, shelf-stable air dried chicken feet:
- Clean feet thoroughly in cold water, removing all dirt and debris.
- Place in brine 8-24 hours to enhance preservation. Use 1/4 to 1/2 cup salt per quart of water.
- Rinse brined feet and pat dry. Hang individually or place on drying racks in a single layer.
- Position in warm area (60-90°F) with good airflow. Use fans if needed.
- Turn feet over halfway through drying for even moisture removal.
- Check feet each day. When no longer tacky or moist, drying is complete.
Proper sanitation, temperature control and air circulation are key to safely air drying chicken feet.
How to Rehydrate Dried Chicken Feet
Before eating or cooking with dried chicken feet, they need to be rehydrated by soaking in liquid to restore moisture.
Tips for Rehydrating
- Use cool, clean water, broth, milk, juice or other liquids.
- Submerge feet fully and weigh down if needed.
- Refrigerate during lengthy soaking for food safety.
- Change liquid periodically to enhance rehydration.
- Soak 30 minutes to overnight until pliable and moist.
Rehydrated chicken feet take on added flavor from the soaking liquid. They can then be enjoyed in soups, stews, dim sum and other dishes, or prepared by other cooking methods.
Storage of Dried Chicken Feet
For best quality and food safety, store air dried chicken feet:
- In sealed containers or bags
- In a cool, dry pantry area
- Out of direct light
- Away from moisture, pests and rodents
Stored properly, dried feet can keep for up to several months without refrigeration before quality declines. Check periodically for any mold growth and discard if found.
For longer term storage of over 6 months, freeze the dried feet to preserve freshness and prevent possible insect infestations.
Tips for Drying Chicken Feet
– Scrub feet clean before brining. Any dirt can lead to off-flavors.
– Test dried feet for brittleness before extending drying times long. Overly dried feet lose too much flavor.
– Consider smoking the brined chicken feet before air drying. This adds wonderful savory flavor.
– Grind some dried feet into powder to use as a rich, natural broth thickener and nutrition boost.
– Pair rehydrated chicken feet in dishes that complement their rich gelatin. Tomato-based stews and Chinese soups work well.
– Store unused brining liquid to use for preparing beans, meat or making sauces. Refrigerate only up to 5 days.
Nutrition of Air Dried Chicken Feet
Chicken feet are nutritious, with a unique nutrition profile:
Collagen – Feet are about 80% collagen proteins, which support skin, hair, nails, joints and gut health. The collagen becomes highly concentrated during air drying.
Gelatin – This connective tissue protein has similarities to collagen. Gelatin imparts beneficial viscosity and texture when feet are used in cooking.
Chondroitin – This complex carbohydrate aids cartilage repair and joint health. Drying doesn’t diminish levels of this anti-inflammatory component.
Hyaluronic acid – Found in chicken skin and connective tissue, this compound helps retain moisture in tissue and joints for flexibility.
Glucosamine – This compound found in tendons aids cartilage formation and repair. Dried feet offer concentrated amounts.
Protein – Chicken feet provide all essential amino acids for building and repairing muscle, skin and organs.
Chicken feet also supply various vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Enjoy dried feet as a nourishing snack or addition to recipes.
Uses for Air Dried Chicken Feet
Beyond snacking, air dried chicken feet have many uses:
– Add to soups and stews for body and collagen content
– Use in place of gelatin for thickening sauces or aspic
– Infuse extra flavor into stocks and broths
– Make collagen-rich bone broth in slow cookers
– Grind into powder to thicken gravies or smoothies
– Simmer into congee or rice porridge
– Braise with aromatics then stuff into dumplings
– Prepare in curries and coconut-based stews
– Use in place of dried shrimp or squid in Chinese dishes
– Feature in dim sum dishes like Phoenix Claws
– Simmer into hearty noodle soups
From Asian to European to Latin American cuisines, dried chicken feet are used worldwide to impart nutrition and bold, sticky textures. Experiment with global flavor pairings and cooking techniques.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can you eat chicken feet raw?
Chicken feet should always be thoroughly cooked before eating to prevent risk of salmonella and other bacteria. Do not eat raw or undercooked chicken feet.
2. Do you have to boil chicken feet before drying?
It isn’t necessary to pre-boil chicken feet before drying. The brining salting process is sufficient for preservation. Pre-boiling can speed drying but isn’t required.
3. What does drying chicken feet do?
Air drying chicken feet removes moisture to prevent spoilage so they can be stored long term without refrigeration. It also concentrates flavors and nutrition.
4. Can you dry chicken feet in the oven?
Yes, chicken feet can be air dried in the oven on the lowest heat setting, around 145°F. Prop the door open slightly for airflow. Monitor closely to prevent over-drying.
5. How long do dried chicken feet last?
Properly air dried feet retain quality up to 6 months stored in a cool, dry pantry. For longer storage, freeze dried chicken feet. Check occasionally for any mold.
6. Why soak chicken feet before cooking?
Soaking rehydrates dried chicken feet before cooking, restoring moisture and flavor. It also removes excess salt from brining. Hydrated feet cook up tender.
7. Can you eat chicken feet with gout?
Chicken feet are high in purines which can exacerbate gout. So those with gout should avoid overconsuming them. Moderate intake should be okay. Check with your doctor.
8. Are air dried chicken feet safe for dogs?
Yes, dried chicken feet are a healthy, natural treat and chew for dogs. Their high collagen content supports dog joint health. Monitor to avoid choking hazards from swallowing large pieces.
Air drying allows chicken feet to be preserved for extended storage without refrigeration while retaining nutrition and bold flavor. When properly brined and dried under the optimal conditions for 1-4 weeks depending on use, chicken feet develop a complex, concentrated taste and chewy texture. With a long shelf life and great versatility in soups, stews, stocks and snacks, air dried chicken feet are a thrifty, nourishing and delicious pantry staple around the world.