Chef McJunkin ventures into eating territory few have braved thus far
It was bound to happen eventually. I bought, cleaned, cooked and ate lamb testicles. I’ve certainly eaten my fair share of “bizarre” foods; sea urchin, balut, beef heart, century eggs, ant larvae, raw meat, and almost every part of every barnyard animal has graced my plate at some point.
Animal testes, however, have somehow escaped my adventurous maw—until now. I’ve never been opposed to eating an animal’s testicles on principle. After all, as a responsible carnivore, isn’t it hypocritical to judge one cut of meat over another? From a broad, cultural perspective, is it wrong to say that one part of the animal is “better” than another?
Fergus Henderson, regarded as a modern-day pioneer of nose-to-tail cooking, famously said, “If you’re going to knock it on the head, it seems only polite to eat the whole thing.” If you are going to raise an animal for its meat, throwing away the parts that don’t become steak, roast or ground is an inexcusable waste of life and the resources consumed to create it.
Offal (a term used to describe any parts of a meat animal that are eaten but are not skeletal muscle) has recently seen a resurgence in popularity, both in Europe and the U.S., but it has mostly focused on tongue, heart, liver, pig trotters and ears. Sure, there are enclaves of Chris Cosentino-worshipping, self-proclaimed, offal connoisseurs that will order up the occasional plate of sweetbreads or pick through a slow-cooked pig’s foot twice a year; but in today’s world of nose-to-tail eating, the hanging tendergroins are what separate the peach fuzz from the bristles.
Finding a source for reasonably fresh, quality animelles is tricky. Your best bet is to befriend a farmer or butcher, such as the good folks at Main Street Meats. Currently, most male livestock are castrated shortly after birth, which tends to cut down on the availability of fresh fries, so having a friend that will think of you whenever they see balls is truly a friend indeed.
Once you get your hands on a good pair, you’ve got to check for quality. Make sure they are firm and pinkish in color. Like most glands, they’re at their best when they are fresh, so try to buy them within a day or two of when you plan to cook them. Testicles also freeze well, with no discernible loss due to shrinkage or shriveling.
The actual act of preparing testicles for cooking is easier than the thought of preparing them for cooking. Testicles have two membranes that surround the glands like a protective sack. These have to be removed carefully. Use a very sharp knife to cut through the outer tissue, which can then be peeled back to reveal the inner membrane, which should also be removed in the same way, especially if you intend to cook your balls whole. This outer membrane shrinks rapidly when heated, causing the gland to explode and shoot its contents everywhere like...well…never mind. To prevent a very unpleasant and ruinous ball burst, puncture the inner membrane so it can shrink safely away from the testicle.
Once you have freed the flesh-colored and slightly fragile gland from its protective sacks, I recommend a nice long bath in two parts milk and one part salt water to help pull out any remaining blood or gaminess (unless you’re into that; who am I to judge?). It’s at this point you’ll find yourself mesmerized by the pallid, squishy orbs that will try to escape your grasp like the water snake wigglies you played with in middle school. Don’t be distracted.
After an overnight bath, gently slice the little guys into 1-2 inch-thick ovals, dip into an egg wash spiked with a few dashed of hot sauce, dredge in a flour-cornmeal mixture, and fry to golden brown.
I can’t tell you much about other testicles, but the taste of lamb fries is shockingly unremarkable. I prepared myself for a huge blast of flavor like something out of Guy Fieri’s gym bag, but the actual testicle turned out to be very tame, with a mild, veal-like taste and a texture somewhere between a cooked scallop and slow-poached chicken. Since they’re glands, not muscle, they’re extremely tender, and overall the experience was similar to eating a delicious, fried pâté medallion.
I want to be a responsible eater and respect the animals that give their all by not discarding anything that may have culinary value. Putting psychological barriers and culturally ingrained taste aversions aside, lamb testicles are a perfectly acceptable food and honestly—shouldn’t we all be eating more balls?
Longtime food writer and professional chef Mike McJunkin is a native Chattanoogan who has trained chefs, owned and operated restaurants, and singlehandedly increased Chattanooga’s meat consumption statistics for three consecutive years. Join him on Facebook at facebook.com/SushiAndBiscuits