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.
Where to Try It
Lucy’s Fried Chicken2218 College Ave, Austin, Texas, 78704, United States
Crispy-fried rocky mountain oysters with Ranch dressing are sold as "Calf Fries."
The Rockies baseball stadium serves up Rocky Mountain oysters as a game day snack.