The term "Rocky Mountain oyster" might make you think, "Oh! I love oysters! Are they similar to Blue Points?" But these little suckers are far from the sweet and briny sort you might anticipate at your typical oyster happy hour. So before you try to order Rocky Mountain oysters on the half shell, read up on these 11 facts!
1. They are not bivalves of the sea
Rocky Mountain oysters are not oysters at all. They're mammal testicles, and most commonly come from bulls, bison, pigs, and sheep. That's nuts, right?!
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2. The dish was created by ranchers in the Rocky Mountain region
Some of the very first ranchers to inhabit the West needed inexpensive sources of food, so they experimented with different cuts of meat. And because they didn’t waste any part of the animal, they began cooking testicles with branding coals. And you know what? They were delicious!
Now, these "oysters" are typically found in the American West and western Canada, where young animal castration is commonly used to control breeding, stimulate skeletal muscle growth for beef, and regulate temperament, i.e., make the animal less angry and inclined to castrate you.
3. The cooking methods are versatile
Although Rocky Mountain oysters can be sautéed, braised, broiled, and poached, they're most often peeled, pounded flat, coated in flour, salt and pepper, and fried. (Guys, are you wincing yet?) In Canada these battered balls are typically served with a demi-glace and in America they'll likely be accompanied by cocktail sauce.
4. Testes are healthy
Battering and deep-frying aside, these organs are so rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein, it's a wonder why gym rats don't blend them into workout shakes. And in case you were wondering, eating an animal's gonads have zero effect on the human consumer's hormone balance.
5. These cojones have multiple names
Although they're most commonly referred to as oysters due to their slimy appearance when raw, some other names are used to describe the little fellas. Examples include: cowboy caviar, prairie oysters, swinging beef, Montana tendergroin, dusted nuts, bollocks, or bull/pig/lamb fry. Rocky Mountain oysters, however, is the euphemism to end all euphemisms.
6. We weren't the first country to use gonads for grub
Ancient Romans believed that consuming the most fertile of animal organs would remedy ailments, particularly in the male nether regions. They also considered them to be aphrodisiacs, which is a sexy way to excuse testicle munching.
Although they're not particularly popular outside the American West, bull balls are sometimes appetizers at hammy Western-themed restaurants. They're typically served as deep-fried slices, topped liberally with hot sauce -- just like normal bar finger food! Only they're balls. Spicy.
8. They taste like venison, which is neither beef nor oyster...
Rocky Mountain oysters have a gamey quality, like breaded venison. But some claim they taste more like calamari, which is to say they taste like fried, seasoned rubber. Determine for yourself what they taste like most... if you have the balls!!
9. They're celebrated at... ready for it... TESTICLE FESTIVALS!
There are many festivals, but arguably the most popular one is Clinton, Montana's annual Testy Festy. This five-day extravaganza attracts 15,000 visitors each year and over 50,000lbs of balls are consumed. Grown men and women have a total ball participating in wet T-shirt contests, eating races, and the "Undie 500," which is a scantily clad tricycle race. There's also a "big balls" contest, and we're not talking about the animal meat this time.
10. Chevy Chase ate them with gusto
In a memorable and hysterical scene in Funny Farm, Chevy Chase wolfs down 30 of these babies and breaks a restaurant record before he learns what they actually are. But you can't blame him completely -- they do look a lot like regular ol' meatballs.
11. These balls have been brewed
After an incredibly enthusiastic response to an April Fools video spoofing the idea, Wynkoop Brewing Company gathered the gonads to actually bring this hand-canned stout to fruition. Sold in two-packs for a limited time, it clocked in at 7.5% ABV and three BPB (That's balls per barrel). The brew has a luscious mouthfeel and rich flavors of chocolate, espresso and, you guessed it, nuts.
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Sarah Anderson is a Production Assistant at Thrillist and definitely prefers Matunuck oysters with mignonette sauce. Kick it with her by the water at @smileforsarah.