Rocky Mountain Oysters - Gastro Obscura
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Prepared Foods

Rocky Mountain Oysters

Battered and fried testicles make use of a cattle-country surplus.

Rocky Mountain oysters. Cowboy caviar. Prairie oysters. Despite its many deceptively dainty monikers, this dish doesn’t come from the ocean. No, these “oysters” come from the underside of a bull. In American West and Western Canada, repurposing castrated bulls’ testicles has made for legendary snacking. Most eaters enjoy their testicles battered, fried, and served with a side of ketchup, cocktail sauce, hot sauce, or mayonnaise.

The oysters come from a necessary process in the cattle industry, as castrating bulls is important for controlling the bovine population as well as curbing aggressive behavior. Because some cattle owners wait to see if they would like to breed their animals, bull testicles come in a variety of sizes. Cooks tend to slice bigger balls before frying, while the smaller ones can be battered and fried whole. Those who’ve enjoyed Rocky Mountain oysters describe them as having a texture akin to calamari, with a light gamey flavor halfway between chicken and venison.

Whether the recipe arose from a waste-not-want-not sensibility, or an early cowboy practical joke, communities embrace their landlocked “oysters” with pride. One Montana cookbook from the early 20th century offers 74 recipes for cooking the organs. Testicle festivals, or “Testy Fests,” featuring Rocky Mountain oysters also abound. With cheeky themes such as “Legends of the Ball,” “The Original Sack Lunch,” and “Nuttin’ Better,” attendees can enjoy all-you-can eat “oysters” or watch testicle-eating competitions.

Another reliable way to find the prepared testicles is at Coors Field, in Denver, Colorado, where Rockies’ games consistently offer the snack. Or, nearby at Wynkoop Brewery, find the Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, a beer brewed with two BPB (i.e. balls-per-barrel).

Need to Know

Be careful at the bar: Rather than the singular of prairie oysters, a “prairie oyster” is a cocktail made with raw egg yolk and famed as a hangover cure.

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