Everyone knows there are no oysters in the Rocky Mountains. The oysters we’re talking about, for better or worse, aren’t seafood at all — they’re the family jewels from that herd grazing next to Interstate 76, and they’re a tradition of sorts in Colorado, a novelty food hanging around from the days of vast cattle drives like a bad hangover that won’t go away.
Most Colorado natives are familiar with Rocky Mountain Oysters‚ but I’m not a Coloradan. I’m a proud Michigander, and, until a few days ago, I could happily say that I had never eaten a testicle in my life.
I would consider this my hazing into true Colorado residency; while others claim their own initiations (first fourteener, first shattered collarbone on the slopes, first encounter with a wild grizzly), mine would be the incredible, edible testicle. And if, as I’ve heard so many times, we truly are what we eat, the experience would either reinforce my virile manliness or prove once and for all that I really am nuts.
It was surprisingly hard to find whole bull testes, considering there are more cows in Colorado than people in Utah — about 2.65 million of our bovine friends. I spent a considerable amount of time on the phone with every meat shop I could find in the yellow pages, but nobody had testicles lying around. A few shops in Denver had them pre-sliced and breaded, but if I was going to do this thing, I’d do it balls to the wall. I wanted to make my own. Not my own, my own, but I wanted to start right after they came off the cow — as close to the beginning of the process as I could stomach.
In the end I drove to Windsor, about 40 minutes north of Denver, to Yauk’s Specialty Meats. It’s a small shop east of downtown with freezers full of unimaginable animal parts and a stuffed buffalo head hanging in the next room. The shop had exactly what I was looking for: More than a pound of frozen, whole unspeakables in a package labeled bull fries skin on. Two of them.
“Am I going to find any surprises in here when I cut them open?” I asked the salesman.
“Nope, no surprises. You’ll need to skin them first, though,” he said. “It’s best if they’re still mostly frozen.”
He indicated the side of one testicle. “Cut down the side here and sort of, you know, peel it off. I usually do the side without all the veins — the skin is thinner.”
When I got back to my apartment I dropped the package into the sink, turned on the water and began thawing the stone-hard oysters. While I waited I set up the deep fryer I had borrowed from a friend (I told him I was making French fries) and started mixing the batter using a recipe, included below, from The Fort, a popular restaurant in Morrison with Rocky Mountain Oysters on its appetizer menu.
Skinning them was much like peeling the skin off chicken — slice it open, grab it and pull — but there were more veins than in any chicken skin I’ve seen and I had to pull more forcefully than I expected. I tossed the skin out so the cat couldn’t get to it and let the testes thaw some more. I washed my hands. A lot.
When I sliced them into strips (the big one was larger than my balled-up fist) they were pretty gummy, similar to the texture of raw seafood. It smelled like my high school biology lab, a smell that I had taken to be formaldehyde or some other preserving solution but which I now know to be the smell of flesh.
And I found a surprise. A huge vein ran through the middle of one of the testes and I wasn’t sure if I could eat it after it had been deep fried — would I want to eat it even if I could? — so I threw most of that one away.
By now my counter looked like the table in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I half-expected to see Short Round and Indy stroll around the corner and help themselves to the unappetizing spread.
Once I had cut the delicacies into pieces about a half-inch wide and an inch or so long, I tossed them in the batter and fried them until they were golden brown. The Fort recommended dipping sauces to add a bit of flavor, so I went with the old fried-food standbys: honey mustard and barbecue sauce. I poured myself a beer (I should have started long before) and sat down at the table to eat my first testicle.
Skinning and dicing the testes made it easier, I think. By this point they were just pieces of meat that I had prepared on the cutting board myself. They had the texture of tough calamari or overcooked octopus, but the flavor wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t too good, either, and I don’t know that I’d eat them again.
I certainly won’t be cooking them anytime soon. As the French like to say, Toute chair n’est pas venaison — not all flesh is venison. They are so right.
If you’d like to make Rocky Mountain Oysters, here are a few things I learned:
1. Skinning them is the grossest part. If you can get through that without losing your lunch, you’ll be fine for the rest of it.
2. Cut bigger pieces than you think, since they tend to shrink a little in the fryer. I cut mine too small and regretted it later.
3. Make sure you have sharp knives. Believe me, it’s no fun trying to slice cow genitalia into little pieces with knives that are too dull.
4. Lock the cat in the bathroom. Meat is meat, and cats don’t discriminate.
5. It isn’t funny to throw chopped-up bits of testicle at your wife.
Rocky Mountain Oysters Fort Style (serves six as an appetizer or two as an entrée)
12 calf or veal testicles (or turkey fries may be substituted)1 quart peanut oil
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon seasoned salt dipping sauces
With a sharp paring knife, cut and peel the skin away from the testicles. They will peel and slice much more easily if they are slightly frozen.
Heat the oil to 375°F and preheat the oven to 200°F.
Cut the testicles into one-inch pieces. Combine the flour, black pepper, cayenne and seasoned salt, and roll the pieces into this mixture. If you slice them ahead of time, pat them dry with paper towels before rolling them in flour. Fry for three minutes, until a light crust forms. Dredge on a paper towel and keep warm in the oven. If you are serving them as an appetizer, skewer each one on a toothpick. Serve with sweet chili sauce on the side. It’s nice to fill several ramekins with your favorite sauces for a variety of flavors.
Recipe reprinted with permission from The Fort.
Josh Bishop is a recent graduate of Metropolitan State College’s journalism program.