Weird Crap I Cook: Rocky Mountain Oysters

Really, really wanted to name this one “Pete’s Balls”.  That decision is not indicative of the maturity I approached the whole post with, but it was a dece start.

As many of you already know, “Rocky Mountain Oysters” is the deceptive nickname for bull or calf testicles.  Huevos, Criadillas, Bull Fries… doesn’t really matter what you call them, they are still cooked bull’s balls.  Now that we’ve made that clear I’ll give a photo of something else and a brief aside to give anyone not interested in seeing this whole thing go down a chance to leave.

One of these mason jars is from our wedding, no idea which one.  Eventually it will totally get lost in our huge collection of mason jars and end up being used to pickle pigeon eggs or some crap.  You had a good run, wedding mason jar

Big week for the Ryan’s, one I’ve been waiting for patiently for 4 years; Switchback is now available in bottles!  Kristi and I have both loved Switchback since we first tasted it and chose to serve it at our wedding in mason jars.  Up until this week, it was only available in kegs, but our long national (national for my universe) nightmare is over.  Congrats to Gretchen and the rest of the crew at Switchback, pencil me in for a 12 pack every time I visit VT.

Anyhoo, back to them sex organs.  I’ve wanted to try Rocky Mountain Oysters for a long time but I’ve honestly never come across them in all of my travels or market shopping.  Kinda gross that testicles were on my food bucket list, but I’ve never claimed to be normal.  In late August, while exiting the St. Anthony festival in Boston’s North End I ducked into a halal butcher shop and spotted my culinary holy grail.

Terrifying, absolutely terrifying.  It was much easier to assume I would order them one day than actually purchasing them and knowing A) I would have to eat them because I hate wasting food and B) I’d have to prepare them

Sunday is never a good day for produce buying, and generally the halal butcher shops by the Haymarket smell a little funky, which all added up to this package smelling a little ripe.  From my Philly Italian Market experience I knew that half the battle would be getting them out of the packaging and rinsed, so that’s what I did.

So, uh, you guys wanna talk about something else?  Goddamn those veins are awful

Since it was a Sunday night, I was stuffed on arancini, and generally exhausted, I decided to vacuum seal the bag and freeze them for use at a later date.

Phew that’s a little better.  Let’s just say that I didn’t feel the need to use the labeling area on the outside of the package; these would be pretty easy to recognize

And into the chest freezer they went for a couple months.  I was a little scared of them, due to the ripeness mentioned previously, but knew that my curiosity would get the best of me at some point.  That point was this week when Kristi headed to Vermont for a couple nights and I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with horrified looks from her during the prep process.

After thawing, I rinsed thoroughly, and moved to a plastic cutting board to peel them, a process I had done absolutely no research on..

This wasn’t the first one I peeled.  That one was the ugliest looking of the batch from the outside and I couldn’t bring myself to post it.  Restraint!  Restraint is a new thing on this blog

I had my knives good and sharp for this process since the first cut is surface level and basically opens the ball (god I wish I could come up with a better term).  Then you remove the contents from the outer layer.  The inside is a yellowish/tan color and in no way resembles the outside.

Back to that first one.  For once my fingers aren’t the most unattractive thing in a picture

I will call it like it is here: I exercised awful instincts and did a terrible job on the first peeling.  I treated it like deboning a chicken or something and made tons of tiny cuts to separate it from the skin.  Ended up losing a fair amount of (questionably) edible material and generally it looked like sh*t at the end.

Looks kinda like chicken but that ain’t chicken.  Really awful job by me on this one

After standing there for a few minutes confounded by how this could be so difficult, I eventually decided to give this another shot by essentially trying to turn the next ball inside out.  Welp, turns out it was as easy as that, no knife required after the first cut.

Like it’s peeking around a corner to say hi to you.  Oh heeeyyyyy there little teste.  I should just accept that I am not going to be able to make this adorable

And with that realization, I was able to get through the remaining three in just a few minutes.  After removing from the skin, I sliced each ball into four 1/2 inch rounds that looked extremely similar to sea scallops before placing them into an iced saltwater bath.

That water clouded up quick.  In general, with any kind of organ meat or offal, I like it when the pre-cooking bath gets a little cloudy or changes color because it means I won’t be ingesting whatever caused it to do so

I let those pieces soak for about an hour to draw out as much funkiness as possible.

My plan was to go traditional with the prep and use about half of the ball meat.  Good god that sounds awful.  The other half would be used another night and help fill my bare cupboards of reserve post cupboards.  So, I started heating a few inches of vegetable oil on the stove top in ‘Lil Blue and set up a breading station.

Again, the scallop analogy works very well here, or at least compared to all the other subpar analogies I make on this blog

The breading mixture was half flour/half corn meal, with lots of salt, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder mixed in for flavor.  The beef scallops (ooh, that works) went from the bath, to the egg mixture, then into the breading and onto the wax paper to wait for the oil to come up to heat.

I despise frying stuff due to the smell and general fear of getting burned.  Every door in the apartment was closed and the windows were all open to deal with the smell, but the fear of the hot oil was more difficult.  I ended up choosing to fry between 325 and 350 instead of the usual 375 for vegetable oil since I had no interest in the bubbling splatters.

I mean, still plenty terrifying.  That item in my left hand is a bacon screen which I used to further reduce the splatter risk along with oven mitts on both hands.  Not shown is my Kevlar suit and football helmet.  Hot oil gives me nightmares, yo

After 8-10 minutes in the oil, the “oysters” had taken on a nice golden brown color and you could tell the coating would have a good crunch.  I removed them from the oil one by one and transferred to a pile of paper towels to drain.

Breading and frying makes pretty much anything look completely innocuous.  I might try this with my face during Movember to compensate for my sure-to-be-awful mustache

I spent a few minutes staring at them, letting them cool and seriously contemplating whether I should make a sauce (a caper-y aioli sounded good).  Since the smell and look of the Rocky Mountain Oysters was pretty appealing, there wasn’t nearly as much anxious fear as I expected at that moment.  Eventually, I just put a couple drops of cholula on one of them and took a bite.

I love Chicken McNuggets, but it’s gotta say something negative about a food when it closely resembles a fried bull testicle

Gotta say, Rocky Mountain Oysters are pretty dece.  The flavor is waayyyy less fierce than you would expect, like a very mild fried chicken liver but with the occasional hint of kidney flavor that reminds you that you are eating offal.  The texture is also most similar to a soft chicken liver.  Not at all the unpleasant eating experience that the rotten gym-towel-bin aroma from the original packaging led me to expect.  I ended up eating most of these and then cooking the remaining ball meat (that has become no less awful) the following night, but that will be documented another time.  All in all, a good meal and very glad I finally got to cook and sample bull testicles.

Thanks to Brendan for the new, hopefully less offensive blog header.  That one is here to stay I think.  Got a solid idea for next week’s post, which I plan to get out before Friday for once.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: The Reverse Steak Oscar

As usual with these posts, people were coming over, I had too much stuff in my fridge and freezer, so I made something with that stuff.  This time around, I had a pound tub of lump crab meat from Costco that was nearing its expiration, and a bunch of different meat options to pair it with.

Despite the warm weather, I went with short ribs since I had some nice looking ones in the freezer and just received an additional payload of them from Uncle Billy.  When deciding how to incorporate the crab, I looked to my love of any steak with an Oscar topping and figured I would attempt my own spin on it.

First step was to heavily season the short ribs with salt and pepper.

The return of the good camera!  Aside from at least 3 hours of braising, the other keys to awesome short ribs are tons of salt and pepper and searing all sides before braising.  Took a lot of botched short ribs before I figured this out

My largest cast iron pan went over high heat with a little bit of safflower oil until it got very hot, just about the point of smoking.  Then the short ribs went in.

Using tongs to brown all sides is tedious but makes a huge difference.  Also, searing/browning on my stovetop brings out the worst of my OCD.  I end up acting like Phil Hartman in the Anal Retentive Chef sketch, constantly cleaning up the grease splatters around the pan only to have fresh grease immediately take its place

While those sizzled and sprayed me with occasional “f*cksh*t!” and furious arm rub inducing splatters of hot oil, I did initial prep on some carrots, onions, garlic, and celery.  I was trying to make a braising liquid that would be sauce-like, so I used the processor to chop the aromatics down like I would with an osso bucco.

Once it was all well chopped, I dumped it into Lil’ Blue which had been heating up a little olive oil over medium heat on the stovetop.

After going through this process multiple times, I’m not really sure this does anything.  Nothing really browns because there is so much liquid from the processor, and the smell doesn’t really change much.  Yet, if you asked me whether this was necessary I’d likely insist it is and pretend I know what I’m talking about

After a few minutes of the aromatics cooking, I poured in a half bottle of white wine, a 4 ounce can of V-8 and a 4 ounce can of tomato sauce plus a couple bay leaves.  Again, I wasn’t looking for a marinara, just a sauce that would reduce well and taste equally good with shellfish as beef.  Also, both of those items had been in the cupboard for far too long and needed to get used for something.

More liquid than it looked like I would need, but it always cooks down a ton during braising and if you don’t have this much you need to add cups of water during cooking.  Which seems soooo wrong, who wants beef braised in water?

With the braising liquid simmering, I preheated the oven to 325F and finished browning the final side of each short rib.

I wish I could brown stuff this well inside Lil Blue/Big Yellow, but I’ve never successfully done it without scorching the bottom of the pot.  Better to do it in a separate pan and scrape in any of the good (read: fattening) stuff

The short ribs were nicely nestled into Lil Blue and covered with a couple decorative spoonfuls of liquid over the top of each short rib, like fedoras in the douchey Dutch Oven neighborhood.

That piece to the front bugged me then and it bugs me now.  It just wouldn’t fully submerge

The braising process takes a total of 3-4 hours, so I needed to feed my guests in the interim. Because of the abundance of shrimp in my freezer, my first instinct was shrimp cakes.  The idea was just small shrimp, ground up with spices, tossed in breadcrumbs and fried in a pan; just like any other fish “cake” I’ve made.  Lets start with the food processor in mid action.

Same shot as the Grayling potstickers post, just the egg yolks for binding

For the spices I resisted the urge to go the easy route with Asian spices and a soy-based dipping sauce, only because it wouldn’t match well with the wine and tomato flavors of the main course.  Instead, I went with the simplest approach I could think of and just added crushed red pepper, garlic, and salt.

Once fully ground, the contents of the processor went into a glass bowl to let the flavors come together a bit in the fridge.

Mostly this experience made me want to make dumplings again.  That bowl looked like a delicious blank canvas

With the shrimp resting peacefully, I started working on the crab cake that would be replacing the steak as the base of this Reverse Oscar.

I’ve made crab cakes a bunch of time and usually add a bunch of other ingredients like peppers, onions and breadcrumbs in an attempt to stretch out the crab to as many cakes as possible.  On the other hand, the best crab cakes I have ever had were made almost entirely of lump crab meat and had minimal fillers.  So, I ignored the cheapskate inside me, and only added corn, egg, and a little shake of breadcrumbs to absorb the moisture from the egg.

Yes, I will happily put corn in anything, especially seafood items.  Our friend’s collective love of corn once led to an Iron Chef Corn which in turn led to incredible stomach discomfort for all who participated.  Delicious stuff, in moderation

The crab mixture joined the shrimp in the fridge for an hour or so to set up.  While all them flavors came together, Janet crawled around in the living room between Nate, Emyo, and me, occasionally pausing to attempt to eat whatever she found on the ground.  I obviously applaud her interest in trying new foods, but I draw the line when it’s Kristi’s hair or the foil from my burrito.

Once people were substantially hungry and annoyed that I hadn’t started serving food, I heated up a quarter inch of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  The ground shrimp came out by the handful, was formed into patties and dropped into a pile of breadcrumbs, making sure they were completely covered.  Once the oil was hot, the shrimp cakes went in for some fryin’.

The better camera can’t avoid the lighting issues on my stovetop.  And I can’t avoid frying things to make them taste better

After 5-7 minutes on each side, the cakes were fully cooked and ready to eat.  Thankfully, Nate reminded me I hadn’t made a sauce for dipping so I threw together a caper aioli (fancy named tartar sauce) for dipping while the shrimp cakes drained on some paper towels.  Then we ate them.

At this point I was really slacking on the fotos and consistently taking awful ones where my massive head cast a shadow on the food.  My excuse: Kristi was out of town watching Auntie Kate win the NCAA D3 Women’s Lacrosse chip and the quality of imagery suffered from her absence

As Nate said, the shrimp cakes were like fried shrimp without the hassle of pulling the tail out.  I agree, but I also enjoy the texture of ground shrimp, despite the slightly more metallic taste that comes with cooked ground shrimp vs. whole shrimp.  Pretty nice little appetizer though.

After about three and a half hours, the short ribs were ready to come out.

The moment when the braising lid comes off is always incredibly joyous right up until the moment you realize you melted your contacts into your eyeballs by sticking your face over the pot when you opened it

The meat had cooked to a perfect tenderness and separated from the bone easily in one piece when picked up with a pair of tongs.  Once the meat was out of the pot, I removed the bay leaves and put the braising liquid over low-medium heat to reduce it a bit for use as a sauce.

While the oil was still hot, I made some patties from the crab mixture, then tried to gingerly place them in the pan without burning myself or having the cake fall apart entirely.  I learned I had to accept one of those two outcomes, and after making scrambled crab cake with the first one, I decided to take the burns and make some nice looking cakes.

After a longer stretch than the shrimp cakes on each side, I had my crab cakes.

I know, the lighting is awful and looks like I am back in Philly.  I would have sworn cameras had become idiot proof at this point, but I keep finding new ways to disprove that with every picture I take

With all the components cooked, I assembled the Reverse Oscar.  Crab cake first, then a little dollop of the reduced braising liquid, then the short rib, and another dollop on top.  A dense little pile of flavor and deliciousness.

I knew this would be so rich and filling.  I love compact piles of food that are best consumed in giant bites combining every item.  My guess is most of the people who would make a statement like that have to take a deep breath before they tie their shoes and occasionally sweat from chewing gum

I had bites of the short rib and crab cake separately before combining them with every forkful.  The short rib was tender and had tons of good flavor from the braising liquid, though it didn’t hurt that it was smothered in it.  The crab cake was what I look for in a crab cake, big chunks of tasty lump crab meat with minimal other stuff muddling up the works.  The braising liquid went surprisingly well with the crab due to the white wine and the acidity of the tomatoes.

But when you put them together in one bite, wowza.  It was tough to tell what you were chewing at any given time but it all tasted so good together.  Very, very rich, to the level that all of us were filled up on those little plates, but well worth the effort.

Not sure what will be up next.  Got some stuff curing in the fridge and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new grill, but none of that will make for a post next week.  Will try not to disappoint.