Rocky Mountain Oysters

The Valley’s Not-So-Awful Offal Seeks Adventurous Eaters

Slippery, with bits of “resistance” in the chewing.

Tender, juicy.

Light; a crispy coating, similar to soft-shell crabs.

Or, to others, somewhat like chewing on a slice of batter-dipped, deep-fried cartilaginous ear.

Rocky Mountain oysters, tendergroin, dusted nuts, swinging beef—all colorful monikers for one of Colorado’s more notorious offerings: bull, pig, buffalo, or sheep ‘nads.

Although the local name would suggest otherwise, Rocky Mountain oysters are not wholly unique to Colorado. Animal testes—loaded in protein, vitamins, and nutrients—are consumed the world over. Consumed except, that is, in many “modern” countries (like ours) where butchering animals and partaking of the tail, the snout, and everything in between is not a common practice. This includes eating, um, those swinging sacs that get the job done.

Testicles: yep. And not so much “aw·ful  /ôfəl/,” but the word’s homonym “offal.”

Offal is the byproduct often cast away after an animal butchering. These organs and extras are frequently regarded as the poor man’s meat—but by no means are these awful in terms of flavor, texture, or the creative resourcefulness exercised in preparing them: madeira-braised chicken comb, pickled pig’s feet, oxtail soup, beef cheeks, neck meat. Spleen, skinned and stuffed. Stomach, too, cleaned and stuffed. Brain turned to mousse or soup. Liver to parfait.

Andreas Fischbacher, owner-chef at Allegria on Carbondale’s Main Street, grew up on offal. His descriptions of these delicious meals, stewed in his thick Austrian accent, cause his face to light up as he eases back into childhood memories. As one of ten, raised on a family farm in the Austrian countryside, eating “all of it” was the norm. “I grew up with this stuff. We had pretty much everything on our own,” he remembers. “We didn’t go to the grocery store until they came around, maybe when I was 12.”

Clearly, Fischbacher has a solid background in unusual cuts and organs.

“I had Rocky Mountain oysters on the menu when I opened Allegria to see how the market would react. When it’s a novelty, people are much more interested,” he admits. “We tried a few things—we fried it, served it with a remoulade, put it in a potato salad. It didn’t do too well; we sold maybe four or five.”

Gonads, anyone?

Among many organs, prepared in many ways, Fischbacher enjoys them. He even served them at a Sustainable Settings affair last summer. So how does he like to prepare them?

“Fried. Ideally, freshly harvested. You put them in the milk, you peel them, slice it thin as possible. Little salt, pepper, nutmeg. Dredge it in flour, egg, bread crumb. Reality is, it’s almost tasteless. If you fry it nicely, soft, not too much, it’s very delicate—with some texture—just a nice piece of meat!” he exclaims. “Then there’s the other side, sauteed like a liver—hot pan, onion, garlic; glaze it with white wine or red wine, make a nice little sauce out of it. Then serve it with mashed potatoes. It’s a straight cut, we don’t smoke it or make a sausage.”

Fischbacher often finds his local diners too squeamish to dive in. Instead, he explains,“You’ll find it in communities like Delta, these older farming communities.” Indeed, consuming these cute little cow cojones has been a gustatory cowboy celebration of the spring branding season for over a century.

“Gen X,” he laments, “is the cut-off. Interest has disintegrated slowly.” He shrugs his shoulders and tosses off in that charming accent, “Really—it tastes like veal scallopini.”

What’s not to like?

Watching the cuisine scene, Fischbacher holds hope for oddities like testes. Millennials, he sees, in their desire for a more rooted way of life, are frequently open to more adventurous foods. Humane husbandry and butchering are mainstream cool now with the younger generation, but it takes a larger population than our valley communities to sustain the consumption of offal. “Snout to tail sounds great, but there are many pieces in between, and the pieces in between are not for everybody. You have to develop a taste for it.The chef is going to cook everything he can cook, but if the customer doesn’t eat it? It’s totally consumer driven.”

If you’re hell-bent on trying Rocky Mountain oysters after reading this story, you’re in luck. Doc Holliday’s Tavern on Glenwood’s main drag serves them tourist-friendly, breaded and fried with a cocktail sauce (puns aside). The Pour House, two doors west of Allegria in Carbondale, offers them up with horseradish, ranch, or BBQ sauce. Or, for a more refined experience, cross your fingers and hit up Ajax Tavern’s sixth annual Rocky Mountain Oyster Festival in Aspen this Labor Day. Last year’s event had bison ball “lollipops.” Truly. Past years have seen freshly procured protein packages courtesy of Carbondale’s Milagro Ranch. Let’s see how the Tavern spins a twist on them this year.

(Ouch!)