October 21, 2013
animelle d’agneau frîte
(fried lamb testicle)
“Do you want the testicles, too?” the rancher asked me. Without thinking I replied, “Sure.” Two hand‑sized lumps of glandular tissue were added to the black‑plastic garbage bag that already held the heart, liver, and kidneys from a lamb that my students would soon name Ludwig.
I’d wanted to cook testicles since in 2005. That was when I purchased a French cookbook by Blandine Vié called Testicules. When the book was translated into English in 2011, the title was expanded to Testicles: Balls in Cooking and Culture.
After buying the book, the first problem I encountered was obtaining the subject material. I soon learned that lamb testicles were generally available from Middle Eastern butchers. I even located such a butcher not too far from my house. I looked at the testicles in the store’s refrigerated meat case, but I never got around to buying any. I had lots of silent excuses in my head as to why my reluctance was not just fear.
Late last spring when I was collecting Ludwig von Lamb’s still warm carcass, I asked the rancher my usual questions. How much did the lamb weigh at slaughter? 150 pounds. What was the gender? Male. What had he been fed? Pasture supplemented with fodder and grain. Where’s the liver and kidneys? The offal was sitting on a table close to where the warm carcass was hanging from a gambrel suspended from tree‑mounted come‑along.
As had become my custom, I brought a large roll of commercial plastic wrap that we used to completely enshroud the lamb carcass before moving it to my trunk. I no longer have the car I used to transport my first lamb carcass. That carcass was only slipped into a couple of garbage bags, and by the time I made the hour‑long trip from the ranch to the cooler, there was a strong odor inside the trunk and the passenger cabin. (Most of the smell was gone by the time I sold the car.)
I had forgotten to bring the usual plastic bucket that I normally brought for the offal. That was when the rancher offered up a plastic garbage bag and asked that fateful question.
When I returned home, I emptied the garbage bag onto my counter and separated the offal. I slit the heart
open, washed out the blot clots, and placed it in a saucepan with a little beef stock and onions. This was left to simmer until tender. The liver was cleaned and peeled. About half was sliced up for dinner
, and the other half turned into mousse
. The kidneys went into a deli container with lots of cold water and then into the refrigerator. The water would be changed daily for about a week. The kidneys
were eaten with a cream sauce. The testicles were just put on a plate, covered with plastic wrap, and set in the refrigerator. These would take some thought.
The next day I pulled my copy of Testicules off the shelf and did some research. In French, lamb testicles are called either animelles or rognons blanc (white kidneys). In the United States, they are sometimes referred to as lamb fries. Checking Internet sources in addition to my cookbook, I found a variety of recipe suggestions.
Many sources said to scald the testicles before peeling, but I found them easy to peel with only a small pair of dissecting scissors and a small pair of toothed forceps. (My surgery experience was coming into play.) I cut a slit just through the outer membrane along one side of a testicle. Using the forceps, I pulled the membrane partly away until I was able to pop the gland out. The second testicle was even easier.
I sliced a number of 6‑mm (1⁄4‑in) thick lengthwise slices from the center of each testicle. These I wrapped with parchment paper. I vacuum‑packed the slices in pairs and hid them in the freezer. I also froze the outside scraps to use for experimentation.
I managed to put off the inevitable by hiding the testicle slices in the freezer, but I couldn’t ignore them forever. I already knew that my experimentation would have to be a solo activity. My wife, who has put up with my various failures for three decades, was already looking a bit green when I suggested this new amuse‑bouche. On the third occasion where I found myself eating dinner alone because she had commitments outside the house at dinnertime, I defrosted the testicle scraps.
Most of the recipes I found used some form of frying to cook the testicles. Often they were breaded. Why should my preparation be any different? I combined some blanched pistachio meal with a hefty amount of quatre épices, a French‑spice combination containing ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. The surfaces of the testicle slices was damp, and the nuts stuck to them fairly well. I heated some clarified butter in a small frying pan. The slices were cooked until the nuts—the pistachios, not the testicles—started to brown. The slices were drained on absorbent paper, and transferred to a small plate.
Tasting time was imminent. Even though I knew that I could immediately spit the testicles out if they tasted bad, and I’ve tasted many non‑conventional food items in my life, there was still some reluctance to just pop the first piece in my mouth. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and took my first bite. (Cue smile on face.) Not bad. Actually, pretty good. I quickly scarfed the remaining pieces.
Most, or maybe all, of the flavor was from the breading. The testicles only offered a texture contrast to the breading. This reminded me of Chinese ingredients such as sharks fin, birds nest, and sea cucumber—all texture, no flavor.
I knew exactly when I wanted to serve the testicles to guests. A few weeks after my taste test, in late July, a chef⁄butcher friend was coming for dinner. If anyone would eat this offal, she would.
When it came time to prepare the dinner, I realized that I already was serving a pistachio soup
so I needed a different breading. I substituted blanched almond meal for the pistachio meal. I also decided to be a bit more traditional. I used a three‑step breading technique instead of the single step I used for the test. A few hours before the testicles were scheduled to be served, I dredged the slices in seasoned, all‑purpose flour and beaten egg followed by the nut meal. The breaded slices were refrigerated until cooking time. I also decided to fry the testicle slices in duck fat instead of the clarified butter.
When I served the testicles to my guests, I did so without comment. About halfway though her first bite, my wife realized what she was eating but agreed not to say anything. Finally, the chef⁄butcher asked, “Is this testicle?” I replied in the affirmative, and she thanked me. She said, “I’ve always wanted to try testicles. This is okay.” (I thought I was the only person who had never eaten them.)