Venison Rocky Mountain Oysters
What are the outer bounds of food culture? To what limits will we call something "food"? To what emotional and physiological culinary extremes are we willing to venture? Does something need to stop moving before you put it in your mouth? Can it be an organ meat? Does it need to be cooked? Covered in cheese?
Some say the buck stops with testicles.
Thanks in part to an internet stuffed full of food media, streaming content of globetrotting gastronomic daredevils, and a ravenous appetite for Instagram populism “where we place our careful portraits of home chef cosplay”, thrill-seeking food extremism has become mainstream.
Okay, so I’ll see your balut, (a hard-boiled duck egg where you are essentially eating a duck fetus in utero), and raise you a pair of whitetail gonads.
But wait! Is consuming either of these really about attention-grabbing, or adventure food extremism? Or, are they simply representative of the intersection of food history and culture?
For ancient Greeks, the bull symbolized strength and fertility. They believed that eating raw testicles boosted testosterone levels, strength and libido. The practice was seen as a sign of masculinity and a means to enhance performance of Olympic athletes who desired to win at all costs.
Cowboy culture of the Old West had a similar relationship with “tendergroins”. While culling hundreds of bull calves for castration, the Cookie and the chuckwagon crew commonly prepared calf fries, (Original sack lunch?), to give the cowboys added stamina for long rides.
Spaniards make criadillas, (bull fries), from the animals killed during bullfighting. The custom dates to the early 16th century. It was seen as a way to boost a matador’s bravery, masculinity and virility.
Miloš Oberonović, a Serbian revolutionary who became the first Prince of Serbia, was convinced that “white kidneys” (Serbian for testicles), increased sexual potency and had aphrodisiac powers. He also believed that the white kidneys, (best eaten cooled and “live” i.e. raw), were not effective unless there was a harmonious combination of psyche and physiology. After eating, Prince Miloš often engaged in physical activity as a means to expend the positive energy and various hormones and minerals taken into his body. Wink, wink.
Modern Serbs, however, have elevated the cultural custom to worldwide culinary status. 2019 marked the 15th annual World Testicle Cooking Championship in Lipovica. The event, called The Ball Cup, attracts chefs from around the world. There you will find recipes ball goulash, testicle pizza, salty balls, white kidney stew, and minced testicle pie, among many others.
If you’ve never had the dangly woodland berries yourself, you are you missing out! Some may squirm in their chairs, cross their legs, and cringe, but truly these were wonderful; delicate in both texture and flavor. It is reminiscent of eating Weisswurst; a German white sausage made with minced veal, but without the casing.
Here’s how to make whitetail testes battered and fried:
ONE: Begin by cutting off any remains of the pizzle. Make the cut close enough to open the top of the scrotum.
TWO: With your fingers pull apart the scrotal sac to gain easy access to the testicles. Pull the skin down while push up from the bottom to “pop” the first testicle up and out.
THREE: Gently grab hold and tear free from membrane.
FOUR: Repeat with the second testicle. Save the scrotum for tanning and stretching if you want a coin bag sure to start a conversation. (Seriously. Search for"deer scrotum coin purse"and you'll find plenty of information.)
After removing a few more testes, place them in a bowl of cold water. When they’re floating in water, it’s evident why these are sometimes referred to as “oysters.” The resemblance is there.
After chilling in cold water for a bit, remove the flesh from the testicular membrane.
ONE: Begin by cutting off the end with a very sharp knife. With the ends removed, gently slice open on the long edge to reveal the true delicacy. You are just looking to cut through the Tunica membrane—not through the entire testicle. (Some folks that serve rocky mountain oysters forego this step. The result is a chewy, tough mouthfeel that’s very unpleasant, indeed.)
TWO: Grasp the tunica membrane with your fingers. With your other hand use the knife to scrape the flesh and roll it off of the membrane. The tissue is very soft and spongy.
Repeat the process with any remaining pairs. Notice how different each one looks. There are two pairs, and the fifth is a single from a buck that only had one testicle.
To prepare, cut the testicles in half lengthwise. Dredge in seasoned flour. Dip dredged meats into a deep fry batter of choice. (I made a lite-beer batter using Fry Crisp Batter Mix.)
Gently lay battered oysters into a cast iron skillet, filled with a couple inches of preheated 350˚F oil. (I used my Field and Company #8 . It has a polished, smooth surface, and is 25-50% lighter than most cast iron pans so it doesn't break my wrist. But something straight forward like a Camp Chef Skillet or Lodge Cast Iron will work, too.)
Remove, and serve with your sauces of choice. I used a homemade creamy horseradish, ketchup, and a old style grainy rustic German mustard with a powerful punch.
My first whitetail was harvested near Buffalo, WY in 2017. Rifle: Weatherby .240 Mark V Camilla wrapped in Sitka's Gore-Optifade Subalpine Camo, topped with a Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44.