Eating Rocky Mountain oysters sounds like a childhood double-dare, and “testicle festivals” throughout the West challenge the uninitiated -- though plenty of beer and whiskey give this showdown a grizzled grownup slant. Even the popular euphemisms – calf fries, cowboy caviar, prairie oysters, Montana tendergroins, Texas swing steak – can’t disguise the origins of the dubious delicacy that is deep-fried bulls’ balls. During spring calving season, ranchers help each other with the branding and castrating. Convivial meals follow the dirty work, where the cowboys literally enjoy the fruits of their labors.
The Tastiest Testicles
The fresh byproducts of calf castrations yield the most palatable bite-sized nuggets, but it’s possible to purchase more mature frozen testicles from certain butchers and online year-round. In either case, question the source and choose products from a local cattle operation whenever possible; if you can arrange a direct purchase, even better. You want firm, plump specimens that appear evenly rosy with visible veins. The outer skin should be intact and they should smell mildly meaty, with no unpleasant odor.
Stop Your Snickering
Unless your butcher prepares the testicles before sale, you need to peel off the tough outer membrane first. Look for an opening at one end where you can insert the tip of a paring knife. Make a small slit, then lift the membrane away with your fingers, similarly to how you would skin a raw chicken. This task becomes easier if you partially freeze fresh testicles first or partially thaw frozen ones. Soak them in salted water in the refrigerator for several hours or up to overnight, changing the water frequently, to remove any blood and other impurities. Rinse them thoroughly in cold running water to flush the salty residue, and wash your hands, utensils and food prep surfaces with soap and hot water.
Out of the Frying Pan
Fresh calf testicles should be prepared within a day of purchase or immediately frozen before you clean them. Hold them in the refrigerator overnight in an airtight container if you plan to use them the next day. Or follow the advice of cookbook author Jennifer McLagan, winner of the James Beard award. She recommends in “Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal” that you clean them, blanch them, shock them in an ice-water bath, then store them covered in cold water in the refrigerator for up to two days before you cook them.
Into the Fire
Treat testicles like any organ meat. To eliminate the possibility of E. coli or Salmonella, bring the internal temperature of each piece to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. You can achieve this simply by deep-frying them in 350 to 360 F oil until they turn golden brown and float; monitor the oil temperature with a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Preparation methods that call for thinly sliced medallions heat through quickly as well, so you’re more likely to overcook than undercook them. Like most fried foods, Rocky Mountain oysters taste best consumed immediately; store any leftovers tightly covered for a day or two in the refrigerator, and reheat them completely before serving them again.
- The Weston A. Price Foundation: Rocky Mountain Oysters: Expanding on the List of Organ Meats
- The Appetizer Atlas: A World of Small Bites; Arthur L. Meyer, Jon M. Vann
- Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal; Jennifer McLagan
- Photo Credit David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images