Gonad noshers aiming to emulate the cowpokes of yore may be surprised to find that Cattlemen’s and Clark’s testicles are not beef; they are lamb. Lamb fries, as they’re called, are as common as calf fries throughout the West, and while a lamb’s tend to be gamier, the difference between them is slight. Even buffalo fries—a specialty of Bruce’s Bar in the well-named town of Severance, Colorado—look and taste pretty much the same as a cow’s. (Bruce’s, by the way, has become the destination for a September biker rally known as the Nut Run.)
But bird gonads are something else. Rooster and turkey fries are honored at festivals throughout the country, not only in the West. In fact, the oldest recorded testicle festival (established 1978) is all about turkey junk. The Turkey Testicle Festival (motto: “Have yourself a ball”) takes place every October in Byron, Illinois, north of Chicago. It is traditional to eat turkey testicles in the autumn because their removal makes toms fatter in time to become the main event for Thanksgiving.
So, what do testicles taste like? Those of cattle and sheep put us in mind of sweetbreads: lush and smooth, fried crisp but melting soft inside, with a taste that is, pardon the expression, nut-rich. Turkey fries are similar, but closer to calf’s liver in taste, and sometimes as chewy as gizzards.
Can it be said, as it is of so many other rare and exotic meats, that testicles taste like chicken? The answer is found at the annual World Championship Rocky Mountain Oyster Festival in Throckmorton, Texas, where the 2012 festivities kick off Friday, May 18, with a “Tastes Like Chicken” Contest. The festival invites participants to cook “anything, and we do mean anything, that you think or have been told ‘tastes like chicken.’” Contestants who work with cattle for a living can bring their own animals’ testicles to cook; all others are given fresh ones donated by local ranchers. The rules specify that entries must be edible, stating that “judges have the right to make the cooks sample their entry first to watch for their reactions before trying it themselves.” Competitors typically offer their dishes to the judges along with moonshine or silly-flavored alcoholic drinks such as last year’s watermelon tequila. When it comes to eating gonads, a little liquid courage goes a long way.
Jane and Michael Stern are the authors of Roadfood, now in its the eighth edition, and Roadfood.com, a source for reviews, recipes, and tasting tours of good eats nationwide. Longtime contributors to Gourmet magazine, they recently wrote for Gourmet Live about America’s Best Pie Joints and two worth-a-detour restaurants that owe it all to Mom.